Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) have found themselves on the wrong side of the law in Italy over their “freemium” model app sales, reports The Wall Street Journal. Freemium apps can be downloaded free of charge, but include the option to buy additional features for a fee. Italy’s Antitrust and Competition Authority is investigating whether or not Apple and the other tech companies misled consumers who racked up unintended credit card charges from purchases made through the apps. Apple’s iTunes App Store, Amazon’s Appstore, and Google’s Google Play are three of the largest mobile app stores and all of them offer many freemium apps.
“Consumers could be led to think, contrary to reality, that a game is completely free and therefore they don’t know ahead of time the game’s true cost,” said an Italian regulator in a statement obtained by The Wall Street Journal. “It appears also that there is a lack of information regarding how to exclude or limit the possibility of making a purchase inside the app.”
This is not the first time that the tech companies have faced scrutiny over their freemium app sales in Europe. In February, the European Commission asked mobile app vendors to commit to certain consumer protection standards, especially in regards to automatic debits through default settings in freemium apps. Vice-President Viviane Reding — the EU’s Justice Commissioner — noted that the current implementation of the freemium app model not only harms consumers, but the app industry as a whole.