The gaming industry has seen a significant increase in internet traffic so far this year – i.e. up to75% in some regions – with the bulk of the increase concentrated during the Coronavirus lockdown. The internet traffic includes both video and mobile games and a big part of the users are children.
In the circumstances, it may prove difficult for parents to keep on top of their children’s screen time as well as in-app purchases in particular if they are working at the same time.
So what can you do if your children have made unauthorised in-app purchases?
What is the law?
There is currently little legislative regulation for in-app purchases with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations being the primary sources of consumer protection in this respect in the UK in addition to the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
There have been several high-profile cases in which parents have been charged, in some cases, thousands of pounds for in-app purchases which they claim to be unauthorised and made by their children.
The sale of in-game purchases which target children may breach the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published a set of principles regarding in-app purchases setting out examples of behaviours more or less likely to comply with consumer protection laws.
Whilst these principles are not legally binding, they constitute good practice in respect of in-app purchases.
How to get a refund?
Whether or not you are entitled to a refund will be subject to your specific circumstances.
The store operators have their own procedures and guidelines regarding refunds for app and in-app purchases.
For example, Apple allow you to request a refund for any app, in-app, or media purchases made within the last 90 days subject to their customer service representatives review of your claim whereas Google may provide you an automatic refund for a purchase made within the last two hours.
Who to contact?
If your query is regarding the app itself -i.e. it may not be working as expected or made an in-app purchase that has not been delivered – you should first contact the app developer. If the app developer is unresponsive, you can contact the customer service of the store operator where the app was downloaded from in the event they may be able to assist or prompt you in the right direction.
If your query is regarding a refund, you should contact your app store operator and Apple and Google offer the option to report a problem or request a refund online from your account (further guidance can be found in the paragraph above).
What to do to keep your purchases safe?
There are a few steps that you can take to ensure that you are protected against unauthorised in-app purchases made by your children; these include:
- ensuring your payment authorisations are secured by thumbprint or FaceID
- and/or using any features of your app store provided that may offer you such protection.
For example, Apple users can benefit from Screen Time features which allows you to set up a password for purchases, prevent some types of purchases, or disable them completely for a period of time.
Google Play users, you can download a parental control app which may allow you to give your child their own profile on the device and limit their access to certain features.