Google to begin refunding customers
The Federal Trade Commission has approved a final order resolving FTC allegations that Google, Inc. unfairly billed consumers for in-app charges incurred by children without their parents’ consent.
The settlement was first announced by the Commission in September. It resolves allegations that Google billed consumers millions of dollars for charges incurred by children without consent from account holders. When Google first introduced in-app charges to the Google Play store in 2011, the FTC’s complaint alleged, Google billed for such charges without any password requirement or other method to obtain account holder authorization. The complaint also alleged that even after requiring a password to incur in-app charges, the company failed to tell parents that entering the password would then open a 30-minute window during which children could make unlimited charges without authorization.
“For millions of American families, smartphones and tablets have become a part of their daily lives,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “As more Americans embrace mobile technology, it’s vital to remind companies that time-tested consumer protections still apply, including that consumers should not be charged for purchases they did not authorize.”
The settlement requires Google to provide full refunds of unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children and to modify its billing practices to obtain express, informed consent from consumers before billing them for in-app charges. If the company gets consumers’ consent for future charges, consumers must have the option to withdraw their consent at any time.
In addition, Google is required to contact all consumers who had an in-app charge to inform them of the refund process for unauthorized in-app charges by children within 15 days of the order being finalized. Google must make these refunds promptly, upon request from an account holder. Should the company provide less than $19 million in refunds within a year of the settlement’s approval, the company will be required to remit the balance to the Commission for use in providing additional remedies to consumers or for return to the U.S. Treasury.
Users will have until December 2nd, 2015 to log into their Play Store accounts and mark any in-app purchases that were made by a minor in order to qualify for a refund.
This marks the Commission’s third case concerning unauthorized in-app charges by children. In January, the Commission announced a settlement with Apple Inc., requiring Apple to provide full refunds to consumers who were billed for unauthorized charges by children – paying a minimum amount of $32.5 million – and obtain express, informed consent for in-app charges. And in July, the Commission filed a complaint in federal court against Amazon.com, Inc., similarly seeking full refunds for consumers and an order requiring informed consent for in-app charges.
Image: Flickr/Charles Ovens