Apple Coaxes FTC Into Probing Google Play Store Purchases
July 10, 2014

Apple Coaxes FTC Into Probing Google Play Store Purchases

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

Earlier this year Apple agreed to a $32.5 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over unauthorized in-app purchases, and apparently the iPhone and iPad maker didn't believe it should be singled out. Politico reported on Wednesday that Apple's top lawyer contacted the FTC about Google, its top competitor in the mobile phone operating system and app market.

"I thought this article might be of some interest, particularly if you have not already seen it," Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell reportedly wrote to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and Democratic Commissioner Julie Brill, according to Politico. Sewell, who sent the letter in January a week after Apple agreed to pay the fine, pointed to a report that also criticized Google's app store over the very same issue of unauthorized purchases.

Apple had come under scrutiny after it was reported that some smartphone owners' children racked up charges within apps.

"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," said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez in a statement this past January. "You cannot charge consumers for charges they did not authorize."

Following the settlement with the FTC Apple also settled a related class-action lawsuit, to which Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a rare blog post, "To us, it smacked of double jeopardy." The company then sought to convince regulators that its competitors should also face the music – in January Sewell shared with Ramirez and Brill a Consumers Report story that faulted Google for allowing one's "kid to spend like a drunken sailor."

Google, for its part, has been working on new controls for the Google Play store, but it still faces an investigation with European regulators – just the latest of its legal woes across the pond.

Consumer advocates have applauded the settlement, which provided refunds to parents, and the FTC's continued investigation into other companies that are conducting similar practices.

"I think [the FTC] is on the right track holding these companies accountable when they find they're not being transparent about in-app purchases, and they’re not providing appropriate controls," Joni Lupovitz, vice president of policy at Common Sense Media, told Poltico but declined to comment on specific FTC targets.

Moreover, this news shows that the gloves are off in the tech sector. As Richard Nieva reported for Cnet this week, "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."

Meanwhile it is not Google, but ecommerce behemoth Amazon that has been in the crosshairs of the FTC over a request that the online retail giant tightens its policies for purchases made by children when using mobile apps. For its part, Amazon has stood its ground and in a letter to the FTC said that it was prepared to "defend our approach in court," while calling its parental controls on devices such as its Kindle Fire tablets to be "effective."


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