Google Faces Suit Over Kids' In-App Purchases

A mother of two young boys has sued Google for allegedly allowing her children to ring up debit card charges within the Marvel children's app “Run Jump Smash.”

Ilana Imber-Gluck, a New York resident, alleges that she downloaded the 99-cent app to a Samsung Galaxy tablet last month. Within 30 minutes, her 4-year-old or 5-year-old son purchased $65.95 worth of in-game currency, she says in her complaint, which was filed on Friday in the Northern District of California.

She alleges that Google allows parents to purchase cheap apps for their children, but fails to inform the parents that their kids will be able to automatically purchase in-game currency for a period of 30 minutes.

“Google offers many games that use the same bait-and-switch business scheme as Run Jump Smash,” she alleges. “Google entices the child with a free or inexpensive (e.g., $0.99) download of a gaming platform that then offers the sale of irresistible game currency in order to enjoy the game as it was designed to be 'played.'”

She is seeking to bring the case as a class-action on behalf of all parents whose children have made in-app purchases. Among other items, she is asking for a ruling that any in-app purchases by children are voidable by their parents.

“The targeting of children by Google and inducing them to purchase, without the knowledge or authorization of their parents, millions of dollars of Game Currency is unlawful exploitation in the extreme,” she says in her lawsuit.

Apple recently faced a class-action lawsuit as well as Federal Trade Commission charges over a similar practice. Although Apple's iTunes store requests that an account holder enter a password before making an initial in-app purchase, the company often saves that password for at least 15 minutes -- during which time children were able to continue to rack up charges, according to the FTC's complaint.

Apple settled the FTC charges by agreeing to provide refunds to parents of at least $32.5 million. The company also promised that in the future, it will require people to explicitly authorize charges for in-app purchases.
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4 comments about "Google Faces Suit Over Kids' In-App Purchases".
  1. Jen Mcgahan from MyTeamConnects , March 10, 2014 at 5:05 p.m.
    Yep, been there! It was 2011 and we were new to games. Apple iTunes got us for $800 in bubbles or some such in-app purchase inside the free game "Zombie Fishes." No joke. My 8-yr-old had instructions he could only play "Free" games. so he of course went crazy. I remember him saying "Mom, I'm really good at Zombie Fishes!" "That's so great, honey!" I agreed -- and then I got the receipts. Tried to get reimbursed from Apple, but no such luck. Expensive lesson for a non-gamer like me!
  2. PJ Walker from TCS , March 10, 2014 at 5:35 p.m.
    It's time to take a page from TV and "V-chip" access to restricted content and in-app purchases. Today's kids have little to no boundaries to content (we needed library cards to get the latest books). We are raising a group of individuals who view any open access to web or mobile content as "free". Think about it - when you receive that link to an article from someone who has paid access and you only get the first few lines (or a topic title) and an invitation to "subscribe" - you either close the page or open another tab and see if someone has posted the contents somewhere else. I'm thinking like the code you need to order PPV events, there must be another step involved to gain access to an in-app purchase and it should be something that forces the kid to hand the mobile device back to the parent to authenticate the second step EVERY TIME a purchase is made.
  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , March 10, 2014 at 6 p.m.
    This is what deliberate malfeasance looks like. Larceny is a criminal offense.
  4. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct , March 11, 2014 at 5:14 p.m.
    Just had a similar occurrence with an iOS app - my son accidentally ran up nearly $300 worth of coin purchases after I allowed him to make a first purchase. But Apple seems to have learned their lesson. I contacted them within a few days and they reversed the charges. The more serious question is why VIACOM put $49.95 in-app purchases within a kids game. Apple is the gatekeeper and has responsibility. But VIACOM is the game maker and should absolutely know better.