updated 06:34 pm EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Company yet to offer commitment, details for required changes
[Updated with Apple rebuttal] Despite both Apple and Google being asked to take measures to make the "true cost of apps" clearer before they're downloaded from an app store, Apple is providing "no firm commitment and no timing" for action, according to a statement from the European Commission. At issue are so-called "free-to-play" or "freemium" apps, which are technically free to use, but often require in-app purchases to make real use of them. Some games, in particular, have exploited lax authorization measures around those purchases to lure children into buying dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of dollars' worth of digital content without their parents' consent.
"Regrettably, no concrete and immediate solutions have been made by Apple to date to address the concerns linked in particular to payment authorisation," the Commission writes. "Apple has proposed to address those concerns. However, no firm commitment and no timing have been provided for the implementation of such possible future changes. CPC [consumer protection co-operation] authorities will continue to engage with Apple to ensure that it provides specific details of changes required and put its practices into line with the common position."
In response, an Apple spokesman insists that the company does "more than others," and that "these controls go far beyond the features of others in the industry." The spokesman points to features coming up in iOS 8, particularly the Ask to Buy component of Family Sharing, which allows parents to block app purchases without their permission.
[Update] The full statement from Apple reads as follows: "Apple takes great pride in leading the industry in parental controls that are incredibly easy to use and help ensure a great experience for parents and children on the App Store. The parental controls in iOS are strong, intuitive and customizable. And over the last year, we made sure any app which enables customers to make in-app purchases is clearly marked."
"We've also created a Kids Section on the App Store with even stronger protections to cover apps designed for children younger than 13," the statement continues. "These controls go far beyond the features of others in the industry."
"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. Our goal is to continue to provide the best experience for our customers and we will continue to work with the EC member states to respond to their concerns."
The "Ask to Buy" feature mentioned in the statement refers to a feature within the new "Family Sharing" portion of iOS 8 that allows families to "link" separate Apple IDs (even special children's accounts which will be allowed with parental permission) so that members can share content, purchases, photos, calendars and use services like Find My Friends and Find My iPhone to locate family members or iOS devices on a map. "Ask to Buy" will be a setting invoked by parents that blocks any in-app or regular iTunes purchases without verifiable permission from the cardholder or authorized parent.
Google has meanwhile confirmed that it will be making a variety of changes to Google Play in September. Apple has only laid out a broad "fall" timeline for iOS 8 (though it is expected around the same time as Google's changes), which may be one reason for the Commission's complaint. The company is typically resistant to giving out details on upcoming products, even when they might alleviate legal concerns. It is also sometimes hesitant to make changes solely to meet regulations -- one example being European AppleCare plans, which ultimately got the company fined in Italy.