Google challenged by irate parents over in-app purchases

A group of angry parents are targeting Google after it allowed kids to spend large amounts of money on in-app purchase that didn’t need a password for authorisation.

Related: In-app purchases expected to drive mobile app revenue as downloads slow

Legal action against Google has been filed by a New York mother on behalf of a number of other parents after her five-year-old son was able to spend $66 [£39] within five minutes of downloading Marvel Run Jump Smash.

"Google has unfairly profited by marketing free or low-cost games to children and by permitting them to easily rack up charges for worthless in-game currency, by failing to incorporate reasonable controls such has requiring the entry of a password,” read a statement from Berger & Montague, the law firm that is acting on the parents’ behalf, according to the BBC.

Google’s Play Store rules allow purchases to be made without a password during a 30-minute window after a game has been downloaded from the store and it meant the boy was able to purchase large numbers of digital crystals within the app.

In-app purchases are a controversial subject especially when it comes to children that unwittingly run up bills worth thousands of pounds on devices that are registered to credit cards owned by their parents.

Google’s nearest competitor in the mobile OS market, Apple, handed over £19.8 million in refunds to US customers after the US Federal Trade Commission [FTC] found that it was guilty of charging customers millions of dollars when children bought content.

One of the largest cases that was included in that action was way back in 2011 when an eight-year-old managed to spend $1,400 [£856] on in-app charges through Capcom’s Smurfs’ Village game.

It isn’t just the US that is getting tough on in-app purchases, the UK Office of Fair Trading giving online game producers a deadline of 1 April to comply with new guidelines relating to in-app purchases.

Related: EC investigation into in-app purchases underway

This was the precursor to the European Union meeting with various stakeholders to discuss in-app purchases and the EU is becoming a much safer haven when it comes to such purchases.