Australia’s Commonwealth Consumer Affairs Advisory Council (CCAAC) has launched an inquiry into apps operating in the mobile commerce sector by encouraging consumers to publicly name and shame businesses employing dodgy app tactics to sell goods.
According to a report from CNET Australia, the CCAAC’s initiative will examine mobile commerce practices, with a particular focus on the experiences of Australian buyers with downloading apps, including free and paid offerings, making in-app purchases on mobile phone and handheld devices and how these processes have been explained by the business to the consumer.
On its website, the CCAAC explains that the inquiry – looking at both Android and Apple applications – is a response to the fast-growing mobile commerce space, whereby digital content is made freely available to purchase, often with hidden terms and conditions that commit the buyer to spending more money than they had intended.
The CCAAC cites “subscription-based and ad-hoc ‘in-app’ purchases beyond the initial free or paid download” as a primary cause for concern.
This has led to issues of charges and increased spending by the consumer without them being aware, particularly among younger users, as was demonstrated in an incident last year with iOS game Smurfs’ Village.
According to a report by Apple Insider, children’s game Smurfs’ Village – a free app download – was littered with in-app purchase options charging real money in exchange for game bonuses. As a result, children playing the game were spending money without their parents’ consent. The system netted huge profits for the title, and was even ranked third among the ‘Top Grossing’ apps in the App Store.
Apple later stepped in to reprimand the game’s publishers Capcom before reducing the amount of time users could stay logged in to their App Store accounts, in a bid to offer higher security.
The CCAAC believes their inquiry will provide a better understanding of common pitfalls for consumers in the mobile commerce industry and prevent further incidents like Smurfs’ Village.
A public consultation process for consumers to share their experiences with the CCAAC will open “soon”.