Why Are These Android Users Suing Google?

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Handing over a smartphone or tablet to a kid is a good way to distract them, but when they make in-app purchases on a device, it can be an expensive distraction. Four law firms just filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Android users against Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) for doing little to prevent those purchases.

The lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Northern California, near where Google’s headquarters are located. The lead plaintiff in the case is a mother from New York whose sons purchased in-app currency after she downloaded Marvel Run Jump Smash! on her Samsung Galaxy tablet in last month. The total costs by either one or both of her sons totaled almost $66, none of which was made with her permission.

How this happened is that Google Play app downloads involve a password whether the new app is a free or paid download. For a half-hour after the initial password permission, the user can download or purchase additional content without a password. Accounts on Google Play require Google Wallet, which must have some form of credit or debit card attached to complete the registration. Only then can the user download any content, paid or free.

The suit alleges that Google was aware of this permission window and did nothing to stop it. In fact, the court fillings say that the apps and other content encouraged such purchases.

“These games are highly addictive, designed deliberately so, and tend to compel children playing them to purchase large quantities of game currency, amounting to as much as $100 per purchase or more. As such, the sale of game currency to minors is highly lucrative,” reads the complaint.

Many of the top-grossing apps on Google Play are so-called freemium apps that are free to download, but users are encouraged to pay for extra content. The highly popular and top-grossing game app Candy Crush Saga is a prominent example. As the most downloaded apps are games, this extra content comes in the form of additional levels or in-game boosts, such as currency.

Children’s unintentional purchases on their parents’ smartphones or tablets are a relatively common phenomenon. A New York Times article from January said that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) would refund any such purchases made by minors on its devices. Apple received approximately 37,000 claims, according to the report. A quick online search showed pages of articles and blogs advising parents on how to get refunds for purchases their kids made or how to disable in-app purchases completely to prevent such unintended purchases.

The class-action lawsuit comes about a year after Apple settled a 2011 lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission for an almost identical situation. Apple’s no-password window was fifteen minutes previously, but following the settlement, every single download or purchase from the App Store requires a password, even if they are mere minutes apart. Apple settled the case for about $5 million and paid another $32.5 million in related fines early this year.

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