Google Play Store offers more control over in-game purchases

Google updates its Play Store so parents and others can require that a password be entered every time someone wants to buy virtual goods while in a mobile game or other app.

Google

What? Your kid and her Tiny Zoo Friends are threatening to march off with your life savings by way of virtual doodads purchased in mobile games? You'll probably be interested in this.

Google has updated its Play Store with an option that lets you require that a password be entered every time someone wants to buy virtual goods while immersed in a game or other app, according to a report in blog Android Community. Previously, goods could be bought for a full 30 minutes on one password entry (an option that remains available).

Top in-app purchases in Tiny Zoo Friends as of March 15, 2014. Apple's App Store

Such in-app purchases have caused more than one parent's heart to skip a beat or two. Earlier this week, a New York woman filed a class-action lawsuit against Google over the 30-minute window, charging that the company hadn't made it plain to parents. She was peeved on discovering that her 5-year-old, who'd been playing Marvel Run Jump Smash, had smashed into her bank balance to the tune of nearly $70 by purchasing virtual "crystals."

Some might say she got off lucky, however. An earlier Federal Trade Commission complaint -- against Apple and the 15-minute purchase window it had in effect on its App Store -- revealed that one woman's daughter had spent $2,600 while playing Tap Pet Hotel and that other kids had shelled out more than $500 in the apps Dragon Story and Tiny Zoo Friends.

Apple settled the complaint with a payout of a minimum of $32.5 million in customer refunds. The lawsuit against Google notes that Apple also began requiring a password for every in-app purchase.

The phenomenon has also attracted the attention of regulators in Europe. The EU's European Commission said recently that it wants to investigate in-app purchases on games that can be downloaded for free and that it planned to meet with several consumer watchdog organizations across the EU, along with Apple, Google, and other companies involved in the distribution of apps.

This week's suit against Google alleges that many games that feature in-app purchases "are designed solely to lure minors to purchase Game Currency in order to meet the objectives of the game...Such games, by design, are highly addictive," and it points to a January 19 story in Consumer Reports that warned parents about the Google Play Store's 30-minute window. In that story, Google was quoted as telling the publication, "We always appreciate feedback and are currently working on new features that give our customers even more information and control over their Google Play purchases."

We've contacted Google for comment on the new Play Store option and will update this post when we have more info.

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About the author

Edward Moyer is an associate editor at CNET News and a many-year veteran of the writing and editing world. He enjoys taking sentences apart and putting them back together. He also likes making them from scratch.

 

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