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Apple facing legal pressure over deceptive free-to-play apps
Apple facing legal pressure over deceptive free-to-play apps
April 13, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

April 13, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
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    16 comments
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Business/Marketing



Apple has found itself caught in a bit of legal trouble, as a U.S. District Judge has chosen to uphold a handful of claims that the company distributed free apps that trick children into money in-app purchases.

Last year, angry parents filed a series of class action lawsuits against Apple, as the iTunes App Store previously allowed users to buy in-game items without a password for the first 15 minutes after downloading the app, giving young children the chance to buy hundreds of dollars worth of content without their parent's approval.

Apple previously removed the 15 minute window and filed to dismiss the charges, but U.S. District Judge Edward Da Vila last week said that the company may have violated consumer protection laws by inappropriately labeling these apps as free, reports PaidContent.

Now that the case is moving forward, Apple plans to argue its side of the story by leveraging contract law and debating whether the iTunes terms of service apply to purchases made within third-party apps. The company will file its defense on May 24.

The apps in question in this case most often target young children, and urge them to buy additional items to succeed. Some parents have reported that their children have spent as much as $375 dollars on these games without realizing they are spending real currency.

Among the most infamous of these apps was Capcom's Smurfs Village (pictured), which urged children to buy virtual currency to expand their in-game town. The game's download page now includes a prominent disclaimer to inform parents of its business model.


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Comments


Todd Boyd
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Any "free" apps that target your children and are not built by independent developers are likely just brainwashing tools to lure your children into becoming responsible commercialists, loyal to the brands and products that raised them. I'm not trying to go all conspiracy theorist here, but I'm hardly surprised that corporations are tricking children into spending their parents' money.

Glad to see that a judge isn't listening to their bullshit.

Todd Boyd
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(Also, I'm not saying independent developers get an automatic "pass" -- just that they are far less likely than agenda-driven corporations to be practicing this sort of deplorable behavior.)

A W
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This is so crazy. There is NOTHING wrong with free to play apps. You can download them FREE and you can play them to a certain extent FREE! It is not a scam. You are NOT obligated to buy anything. It is no different than the shareware concept. There's even usually no time limit that expires you from playing any of these freemium games.

John Ingato
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You're absolutely right. It's too bad you didn't read the article though or you wouldn't have made a fool of yourself.

The problem wasn't the free to play model. It was that apple didn't require a password to make purchases for the first 15 minutes of playing the game, thus allowing children to make all these purchases without knowing it. This is a fault on Apple, not the developer. Unless of course the developer was intentionally taking advantage of apple mistake/bad business decision.

Joe McGinn
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I really wish the game industry would adopt standard and safeguard in this area ... but no, we're going to keep pushing it until we're regulated by law.

Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
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Haven't had a cell phone in quite a while... So, why does it seem there is only one account or lack of parental controls? And who let's children buy shit without saying ok or some sort of balance?

Sounds like the current system is complete garbage, back to the drawing board.

Christopher Enderle
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How does contract law apply in a case about deceptive advertising towards minors? Is their argument that when a child accepts their terms then everything is fine?

Fiore Iantosca
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Minors can not enter into contracts. The contract is VOID. It's like if a dealer sells a car to a minor. The minor can TOTAL the car the dealer is out and can not get that money back.

In this case, the owner of the phone has a legal basis for filing for a refund and will get that money back, or SHOULD get the money back.

Adam Bishop
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Why are parents giving their children access to mobile devices with credit card information stored on them? Gift cards are widely available and easily limit the amount a child can spend. Unless the game is deliberately deceiving users or somehow trying to trick kids into spending money, isn't the onus on the parent to understand what they're giving their children access to?

k s
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Adam the average parent doesn't know what their kids are doing/playing and doesn't care, sadly this is the age we live in.

Vitalic Zhukovich
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That's parents' problem. If they give their kids the device they should provide em with their account or someting. Do they give minors a pile of cash or a credit card? No. So why apple should think for them?

k s
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This kind of reminds me of a TV episode I watched years ago (can't quite remember which one) where a demon was living in a TV and would manifest as a puppet in a sesame street style show and drain the child's life force. Now this isn't quite as bad but still I can't help but draw a comparison.

Eric McVinney
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You're thinking of an Angel (spin-off from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer) episode, where a demon took the form of a puppet to manipulate and then kill children for their life force. It was an awesome episode and now I have to watch it again lol...

Maurício Gomes
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The company that I started this week, has one of the product goals of "be ethical"


We will do games for children, and one of the founder had issues with this, so he know how it hurts (his 6 year old daughter bought some levels in that Disney game that you give water to a alligator...)

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"The company that I started this week, has one of the product goals of "be ethical"" Thank you so much. I want to support your company, keep us updated :).

Buck Hammerstein
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i can see a strong need for the return of the PAGER.cellphones aren't phones for the young, but really that is all they should be. kids don't need game machines that can be brought into class, they don't need more than the ability to call home or 911. if they want to play games on the go get them a gameboy.

but i'm working on a kids game called "Enter Your Parents Credit Card Number Now" and it's -free- with every box of sugar smacks... i'm going to be rich right before i go to jail ;)


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