MILAN May 17 U.S. tech giants Apple,
Google and Amazon and French game developer
Gameloft are under investigation in Italy for alleged
unfair commercial practices, the country's antitrust and
competition authority said.
The investigation will determine whether the four companies
are misleading customers by advertising mobile game apps as
free, when in fact purchases are required to continue playing
beyond a certain point, the regulator said in a statement.
"Consumers could wrongly believe that the game is entirely
free and, in any case, that they would know in advance the full
costs of the game," the antitrust watchdog said.
"Moreover, insufficient information seems to be provided to
consumers about the settings needed to stop or limit the
purchases within the app."
Apple declined to comment while Gameloft said it was looking
into the issue but had no other comment. Google and Amazon could
not immediately be reached for a reaction.
A spokeswoman at the authority said the investigation would
likely be concluded within seven to eight months. The maximum
fine it could impose on each of the companies would be 5 million
euros ($6.9 million), she added.
The investigation follows a similar move by the European
Commission earlier this year which asked companies to revise
their rules on apps that are advertised as free and can be
downloaded at no cost, but which later require purchases that
get charged to consumers' credit cards by default.
According to the Commission, more than half of the mobile
games available in the European Union are advertised as free
downloads, and consumers, especially children, are not always
aware of costs that can be incurred and are vulnerable to the
($1 = 0.7297 Euros)
(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Sophie Hares)