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Google Will Stop Calling Free-to-Play Games "Free" in Europe

Freedom isn't free, and neither are apps.


“Free-to-play,” one of the most popular business models for mobile apps, may be getting a makeover — at least in name.

A statement released today by the European Commission said that, following an appeal to Google and Apple last December, Google has decided to change how it refers to “free” apps. Starting in September, at least within the European Union, free-to-download games on the Google Play app store that contain in-app purchases will no longer be labeled as “free.” Google will also tweak its guidelines for developers to adhere to EU rules about targeting children and authorizing in-app payments so that kids can’t go on a buying spree.

“We’ve been working closely with the European Commission and consumer protection agencies for the last few months to make improvements to Google Play that will be good for our users and provide better protections for children,” a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Google declined to say whether the changes to Google Play would extend beyond Europe, or whether apps other than games that use the freemium model would also stop being called “free.”

The European Commission also gently chided Apple for not yet committing to similar changes in the iOS App Store.

“Although, regrettably, no concrete and immediate solutions have been made by Apple to date to address the concerns linked in particular to payment authorisation, Apple has proposed to address those concerns,” the Commission said. “However, no firm commitment and no timing have been provided for the implementation of such possible future changes.”

In a statement emailed to Re/code, Apple touted its “strong, intuitive and customizable” parental controls.

“These controls go far beyond the features of others in the industry,” Apple said. “But we are always working to strengthen the protections we have in place, and we’re adding great new features with iOS 8, such as Ask to Buy, giving parents even more control over what their kids can buy on the App Store.”

Earlier this year, Apple settled a complaint brought by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on behalf of parents who were charged for unauthorized in-app purchases, agreeing to pay back $32.5 million. The FTC has since sued Amazon on similar grounds.

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