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Google sued over kids racking up in-app purchases

A class action has been raised against Google over in-app purchases by a mother whose young son spent US$65 on in-game currency.

A class action has been raised against Google over in-app purchases (IAP) by a mother whose young son spent US$65 on in-game currency.

Marvel Run Jump Smash!, the game on which the lawsuit focuses. (Credit: Marvel)

Not two months after details emerged about the US$32.5 million Apple will be required to pay in damages to parents as part of a US Federal Trade Commission settlement over in-app purchases, Google has landed in the same pot of hot water.

A class action has been filed by Ilana Imber-Gluck, whose five-year-old son spent US$65 on in-game currency in the game Marvel Run Jump Smash!, currently available on Google Play for AU$0.99. The suit alleges that Google targets children with low-cost or free-to-download games, then entices them to make purchases within the game without the authorisation of a parent or guardian.

The core of Imber-Gluck's argument seems to be a 30-minute window after entering the password into Google Play during which a user can make unrestricted purchases. "Google requires its users to authenticate their accounts by entering a password prior to purchasing and/or downloading an app or buying game currency," the suit reads. "However, once the password is entered, Google permits the user, even if a minor, to buy game currency for up to 30 minutes without re-entering the password."

This is similar to the claim against Apple, which was based on a similar 15-minute window enabled by default in iOS devices for iTunes purchases. Like iOS devices, Android devices allow you to tweak the settings to require the password every time — but Apple was still required by the FTC to change its billing methods to ensure "express, informed consent" for every single purchase.

It is worth noting that, with Android 4.3 for tablets, Google enabled the ability to set up restricted user profiles that cannot make any purchases at all. The device Imber-Gluck's son used was the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, which runs Android 4.2; however, as Google has already taken steps to improve parental control over spending, the FTC's ruling over the case — if there is one, although the precedence set by the Apple case makes a hearing probable — is likely to involve emphasising and clarifying this feature, as well as password protecting purchases by default.

You can view the suit in full below.

Google App Class Action