MEMBER STATES and the European Commission (EC) are meeting to discuss the mobile industry and the controversies associated with in-app purchasing.
In a statement the EC turned its attention to the "app economy" and its many benefits, but furrowed its brow over "in-app" purchases.
While the business makes decent money, there is a great whack of it that is apparently free and might make the wrong kind of money. The EC said that over half of the EU online games market is made up of games that are tagged as "free".
However, it wasn't born yesterday, and it knows that "free", that is, free to download and ad funded often means that there is a price to pay.
"Often consumers are not fully aware that they are spending money because their credit cards get charged by default. Children are particularly vulnerable to marketing of 'free to download' games which are not 'free to play'," it said.
The Commission is receiving complaints from all over Europe, it said, and it wants to devise a solution. The EC will meet with national law enforcement and large technology companies - Apple and Google are mentioned - to discuss changes and a timeframe in which they should be made.
"Europe's app industry has enormous potential, both to generate jobs and growth, and to improve our daily lives through innovative technology. For the sector to deliver on its potential consumers must have confidence in new products," said EC VP Viviane Reding, the EU Justice Commissioner.
"Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection. The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organisations."
The nut of the talks will be the question of how the claim that something is free is balanced against how much it costs to actually get some enjoyment out of the thing.
In a world where a virtual unicorn shoe buckle for a racing car driving goose is a reasonable investment, some people are paying good money to increase the scale of their free games. The EC wants to save people from any confusion about whether such things are a good idea or not.
"Consumers and in particular children need better protection against unexpected costs from in-app purchases. National enforcement authorities and the European Commission are discussing with industry how to address this issue which not only causes financial harm to consumers but can also put at stake the credibility of this very promising market," added Commissioner Neven Mimica, who is responsible for EU consumer policy. "Coming up with concrete solutions as soon as possible will be a win-win for all."
The four point clean-up programme says that consumers should not be mislead about costs, that children should not be cajoled into spending cash, that payment systems must be transparent and that traders must be contactable.
The meeting is being held today and tomorrow. µ