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13 Sep, 2013

‘Free’ May Not Mean Free: Global sweep for apps targeting children


Canberra, 10 September 2013, (ACCC media release) – The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission news release) The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is joining a concerted international effort to identify smartphone and tablet apps that may mislead young children into making unauthorised in-app purchases.

Over 50 consumer protection agencies around the world are searching through online stores for apps that claim to be free but do not disclose that significant in-app purchases are required to maximise the experience of the app.

In addition, the ACCC and other agencies have started engagement with platform operators, such as Apple and Google, to improve education and protect consumers when using these apps.

“Consumers need to be aware that ‘free’ may not mean free. Games and apps in the ‘free’ area of an online store may be free to download but attract costs for in-app purchases. Some of these apps are marketed for children, who do not connect the game they are playing with spending their parent’s money in the real world,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“I have heard from concerned parents whose children have been caught out with unfamiliar technology and racking up a sky-high credit card bill. A child can unwittingly make one in-app purchase costing $100 or 100 in-app purchases costing $1 each.”

While many smart devices require a password before downloading an app, additional purchases can often be made for 15 to 30 minutes without re-entering a password and this is one area of concern for the ACCC.

Apple users can change this by setting device restrictions to require a password for every purchase or disabling in-app purchases. Google users can enable a password restriction that will require a password for each purchase, subject to a thirty minute window after each purchase is made.

Parents’ checklist:

(+) Learn how to control a device, including setting restrictions for passwords.

(+) Consider disabling in app purchases for devices used by children. Step-by-step instructions are available at http://www.accc.gov.au/in-app-purchases

(+) Consider downloading apps for parental control of smart devices

(+) Get to know the technology your kids are using and the games they are playing

(+) Consider switching the internet off on your device when children are using it

(+) Use gift cards instead of credits cards

If children incur unauthorised in-app purchases:

(+) Contact the app store as soon as possible to request a refund

(+) Contact your bank to discuss any unauthorised charges appearing on your credit card

(+) Visit the website of your local consumer protection agency or the ACCC for advice or contact them to make an inquiry or complaint

(+) Some app related purchases can be billed to your mobile bill. If you have a dispute about charges on your mobile bill that you can’t resolve with your service provider, contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

If you think you have been misled complete our online survey on in-app purchases.


The ICPEN Sweep Day is in its 15th year. The International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) is made up of consumer protection authorities from over 50 countries and its main objective is to: protect consumers’ economic interests around the world, share information about cross-border commercial activities that may affect consumer welfare, and encourage global cooperation among law enforcement agencies.

ICPEN members also support the global online cross-border consumer complaint website, econsumer.gov which offers consumers a complaints portal and information on overseas consumer protection agencies and dispute resolution services. This can be very useful for anyone having problems with overseas traders.

ICPEN Membership: Angola, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea. Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal , Seychelles, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vietnam, and Zambia.