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Apple tips off FTC over Google in-app purchases, report says

After Apple pays $32.5 million to customers over purchases made by kids using parents' passwords, Google may be next to face the FTC's scrutiny.


Apple saw itself in the crosshairs of the Federal Trade Commission in January, when the company agreed to a settlement over iPhone and iPad apps that let kids make purchases without their parents' permission. Turns out the maxim about misery loving company is true: Less than a week later, Apple's top lawyer alerted the FTC about similar behavior by Google, according to an email obtained by Politico.

"I thought this article might be of some interest, particularly if you have not already seen it," Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell wrote to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and Democratic Commissioner Julie Brill.

Sewell pointed to a Consumer Reports article that called out Google for billing methods that for a time allowed a child to make in-app purchases for up to 30 minutes after an adult had entered a password. The loophole enabled a kid to "spend money like a drunken sailor," the article said.

The move underscores the bitter rivalry between the two tech titans, particularly over matters concerning mobile devices. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously said he would wage a "holy war" over Android, Google's mobile operating system. Samsung -- which runs Android on its smartphones and tablets -- and Apple are the No. 1 and 2 smartphone manufacturers in the world. Google also played a central role in a high-profile legal battle between Apple and Samsung over patent infringement, in which several Android engineers took the stand.

Neither Apple nor Google replied to a request for comment.

The email could also indicate an increased amount of scrutiny coming Google's way from the FTC. When Apple settled in January, it was forced to pay $32.5 million to costumers who were affected. The agreement also required Apple to change its billing methods to make sure it receives "express, informed consent" from users before it charges them for in-app purchases.

"This settlement is a victory for consumers harmed by Apple's unfair billing, and a signal to the business community: whether you're doing business in the mobile arena or the mall down the street, fundamental consumer protections apply," Ramirez wrote at the time. "You cannot charge consumers for purchases they did not authorize." Google in March also rolled out revised controls for its Google Play app store.

The issue extends to tech giants beyond Apple and Google. Last week, Amazon said it would fight an FTC lawsuit demanding policy changes and fines related to children spending money through apps on mobile devices.