European Commission holding talks with Apple, Google over in-app purchase policy

The European Commission will be holding talks with Google, Apple and others in the industry on Thursday and Friday to iron out rules for in-app purchases.

The talks come after reports saying children are making in-app purchases without parent's permission, through free-to-play games that have buyable items within. If parents have their credit card attached to their iTunes or Google Play account, it's easy for children to click buy, and they might even be "mislead" to do so.

"Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection," said the EU's justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, reports Reuters.

The European Commission will work with the companies to consider clearer guidelines for in-app purchases.

The move in Europe follows the US Federal Trade Commission forcing Apple to pay $32.5 million to customers in an FTC settlement in January.

"Then the FTC got involved and we faced the prospect of a second lawsuit over the very same issue," Tim Cook, Apple CEO, told employees in January. “It doesn’t feel right for the FTC to sue over a case that had already been settled. To us, it smacked of double jeopardy."

The FTC regulatory body quoted an example where one child spent $2,600 without permission in the app Tap Pet Hotel. Consumers have reported millions of dollars in unauthorised charges to Apple and, in some cases, Apple has refunded the parents at its own expense.

"Consumers, and in particular children, need better protection against unexpected costs from in-app purchases," said Neven Mimica, the European commissioner for consumer policy.

The UK Office of Fair Trading ruled developers have to prevent the use of language or actions that exploit a child's intelligence, such as implying a character would be disappointed if they did not spend money. They must also make it clear how to contact the business if the gamer has a complaint and must only take payment if the account holder provides "informed consent".

In-app purchases can be disabled on iPhone and Android devices, but some customers don't find out before it's too late.