Apple being investigated over misleading ‘freemium’ apps

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If you’re an iOS gamer, chances are you’re fed up of games loaded to the gunwales with in-app purchases. The so-called “freemium” trend for games is annoying for two main reasons: One, in many cases it makes games virtually unplayable if you won’t shell out the extra cash for IAPs. Two, it’s misleading because the games aren’t really “free” at all, any more than you could say that it’s free to go to the theater, but you have to pay cash if you want to actually watch a movie.

It’s this second point that antitrust authorities in Italy are taken issue with, under the heading of unfair commercial practices. They’re investigating Apple, Google and Amazon, alongside French game developer Gameloft, for allegedly misleading customers by advertising mobile game apps as free, when they actually require purchases in order to be played beyond a certain point.

“Consumers could wrongly believe that the game is entirely free and, in any case, that they would know in advance the full costs of the game,” the antitrust watchdog said in a statement. “Moreover, insufficient information seems to be provided to consumers about the settings needed to stop or limit the purchases within the app.”

Apple, as usual, hasn’t commented on the issue, while Gameloft says that it is looking into the complaint.

According to authorities, the investigation could take between 7 and 8 months to conclude — with the maximum fine levied against each of the companies named being in the region of 5 million euros ($6.9 million).

This isn’t the first time Apple has been involved with a legal investigation concerning in-app purchases. Earlier this year the company finally settled a 2011 lawsuit with parents whose kids had spent insane amounts of money on in-app purchases within freemium games. Under the settlement, Apple paid $5 in iTunes gift cards to the parents who sued, while offering credit or cash refunds if the amount exceeded this figure.

About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems, And Create More and The Apple Revolution, both published by Penguin/Random House. His tech writing has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, Techmeme, and other publications. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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