Google Sued Over Kids’ In-App Currency Purchases

The plaintiff in the case claims her minor son made $66 worth of in-game currency purchases during the 30-minute window after she used her password to download the $.99 Marvel Run Jump Smash game on her Samsung Galaxy tablet.

The plaintiff in the case claims her minor son made $66 worth of in-game currency purchases during the 30-minute window after she used her password to download the $.99 Marvel Run Jump Smash game on her Samsung Galaxy tablet.

While the folks at Apple have already settled civil and regulatory complaints about in-app purchase policies that allowed children to run up huge bills on their parents’ accounts, the Google Play store has only recently come under scrutiny for its allegedly lax controls. Now, a mom in New York has filed a potential class action against the Internet giant, claiming its policies encourage kids to waste their parents’ money.

The suit [PDF] was filed last week in a federal court in San Francisco by a mother who says that one of her young boys ran up $65.95 in in-app purchases while playing the game Marvel Run Jump Smash on her Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 tablet.

“Prior to the purchase of an App, Google requires account holders to enter their password,” reads the complaint. “However, once the account holder enters the password, he or she (or… his or her minor child) could make purchases for up to 30 minutes without re-entering the password. Thus, a parent could enter his or her password to permit a child to download a free gaming App, and then allow the child to download and play the game. What Google did not tell parents, however, is that their child was then able to purchase Game Currency for 30 minutes without any supervision, oversight or authorization.”

And this is what the plaintiff claims happened in February, when she purchased the Marvel Run Jump Smash game app from the Google Play store, only to find out via a subsequent e-mail that her son had purchased $65.95 worth of “Crystals,” an in-game currency that can be bought in bundles. The mom contends that these purchases were made within the 30-minute window during which the user does not have to re-enter his/her password.

The suit points to Apple’s change in policy, following a Federal Trade Commission investigation that resulted in $32 million worth of refunds to customers. Apple had previously had a 15-minute window during which in-game currency could be purchased without a password, but it has since altered that policy to require a password for each purchase.

Also at issue are the very nature of games that allow for in-app currency purchases. Because Google makes it so easy for users to make these in-game purchases, the plaintiff argues that games and apps are being created primarily for the purpose of enticing consumers to spend money on things like in-game currency.

“Such games, by design, are highly addictive,” reads the complaint. “Google entices the child with a free or inexpensive (e.g., $0.99) download of a gaming platform that then offers the sale of irresistible Game Currency in order to enjoy the game as it was designed to be ‘played.’ Within seconds of “playing” the game, one is led to a screen that sells virtual currency, so that the ‘player’ can ‘build’ things or ‘have’ other virtual things.”

The suit alleges that Google is targeting children and “inducing them to purchase, without the knowledge or authorization of their parents.”

Plaintiffs claim that each purchase made via these apps constitutes an acceptance of Google’s terms of service, and thus a binding contract. However, they contend that under California law, parents have the right to disaffirm certain contracts agreed to by minors.

The complaint also accuses Google of violating that California Consumers Legal Remedies Act by marketing apps as free while allegedly intending “to induce from minors the purchase of Game Currency.”

The company is additionally accused of unjust enrichment for, according to the complaint, knowingly accepting money from in-app purchases made by minors.

The plaintiff seeks class action status for the complaint, along with unspecified damages.

[via GigaOm]

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  1. mobafett says:

    Why can’t Google, Amazon, Apple, et al, create sub-accounts or child accounts, with permissions limited by the parent account? It would make these situations a lot easier. When purchasing a Kindle Fire for my daughter, I let her know in no uncertain terms that she was not to purchase anything with the Amazon account, which I had to use in order to register the device. She has been old and wise enough to comply.

    • Xenotaku says:

      Agreed. My roommate has a Nexus 7, and she made me my own profile for when I need to use the Tablet for something. Not saying that these suits are wrong (“Hey Kids, get more out of your game with [purchasable items]!” and not requiring password confirmation is horrible), but the kids having their own profiles, with no money attached to them, and switching to the kids’ profiles before letting them play would solve a lot of these.

      In regards to this case, and the 30 minute window, the window should automatically close, regardless of time remaining, as soon as you exit the store and start an app. Sure, it’s useful for while you’re using the store, but if you’ve exited and started an app, obviously you’re done using the store.

  2. MarthaGaill says:

    In-app purchases are not a new thing! If you’re going to put in your password and hand your tablet off to your kid, maybe you should look at what they’re playing and let them know not to buy stuff. It’s that easy, people. Be parents.

    • JoeBlow says:

      The oversight here is that it is not intuitive to know that entering a password for one purchase enables password-free purchases for the next 30 minutes.

      • furiousd says:

        What is intuitive, or rather should be expected, is that parents should take responsibility for their children’s actions. They should be able to contact Google, explain what happened and get a refund. Or deal with it internally and take away the device until the child has done enough chores to pay for what they bought without permission. I sincerely doubt that the child would buy something else without permission again after being held responsible for their actions the first time

  3. evlpete says:

    the only solution is to give your kids your own Google account without a credit card linked to it (use gift cards, to transfer funds ) of unfortunately this is against Google’s rules since you have to be teenager you have an account

    • SingleMaltGeek says:

      Then how do you add the 99 cent game to their device if you have them on a separate Google Play account?

      Conversely, one workaround I thought of is to have all devices on one Google Play account and just install the kids’ games online. If you go to https://play.google.com/store and log in, you can purchase content for any device authorized on your account (for most people that is one device, but for a family it can be multiple devices). It is then pushed to the device. This method shouldn’t allow purchases on the device itself for any length of time.

  4. JoeBlow says: