Free Apps No Longer ‘Free’ in Apple App Store

Is it really accurate to label a game like Candy Crush or Pet Rescue "free" if you're bombarded with dozens of offers to buy -- for real money -- extra lives or additional weapons? The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the European Union have found all sorts of potential problems with that practice, which is likely the reason Apple has just relabelled download buttons for certain apps in its store with "Get" instead of "Free."

Previously, when users wanted to access free apps or games, they would tap buttons labelled Free to start the downloads. Now, however, they tap the Get button. The new label has started appearing this week on Apple Store apps once marked Free that require no upfront payments. Many such apps -- not only from Apple but from many other sites as well -- are more accurately described as "freemium" downloads, as customers often have plenty of opportunities to spend actual cash as they begin using these apps.

Earlier this year, Apple agreed to refund numerous customers who were billed for in-app mobile purchases made by children without their parents' permission. Its settlement with the FTC amounted to a minimum of $32.5 million.

'True Costs Involved'

Many countries within the European Union (EU) have also fielded complaints from their citizens about such in-app purchases. In a joint action this summer, the European Commission and member states notified Apple, Google and other software companies about several changes to their consumer protection expectations.

Under the new EU position, so-called free games "should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved" or contain direct messages to children encouraging them to make in-app purchases. Users should also be "adequately informed" about purchase and payment options, and should be provided with an e-mail address for sending questions and complaints, the EU said....

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