The value of the EU app sector has grown exponentially over the past few years, with a recent EU report estimating that spending on apps in the EU rose to €6.1 billion in 2013, and forecasts that by 2018, the industry could be worth €63 billion per year to the EU economy. However, complaints from consumers across Europe have caused concerns to national regulators about the selling techniques employed in the app industry.
Last month, the European Commission held meetings with representatives of the app industry and national regulators from several European countries. The aim of these meetings was to discuss the concerns of national regulators and draw up a plan to implement solutions within a clear timeframe.
The most pressing concern of the regulators is games being advertised as “free”, when in fact charges for gameplay later become apparent. In the Common position of national authorities within the CPC (the Common position), national authorities state that if the term “free” has the potential to mislead users, it could be incompatible with the law. The term should only be used to describe games that are “free” in their entirety, or for games that are marketed with accurate details of additional costs given upfront. In addition, regulators state that purchasers of apps should be provided with full information about payment arrangements, rather than being debited by default, as has sometimes been the case.
Also discussed at the meeting was the interaction of the app industry with children. In the Common position, national authorities state that games that either target children or that can be reasonably foreseen to appeal to children should not contain direct encouragements to children to buy items. When considering their game, developers should consider the way that the app displays messages.
The encouragement and development of the app industry is of great importance to the EU economy, and its contribution to commerce is set to grow. At this stage, it is important that regulators and lawmakers strike the right balance between allowing developers the autonomy to create products, and appropriate regulation that protects the interests of consumers. The approach of the EU Commission in holding collaborative talks with the industry is a promising sign which indicates that a balanced outcome is achievable.