A federal court judge in California denied Google’s motion to dismiss a suit brought by a parent who alleged that the company engaged in deceptive advertising by marketing apps as “free” in Google Play and then inducing minors to purchase in-app content, such as virtual supplies, cash, and other content designed to be used in the app itself.
Ilana Imber-Gluck alleged that her minor sons made $65.95 worth of purchases in the “Run Jump Smash” app she downloaded from Google. After a download, Google did not require that customers reenter their passwords to make additional purchases during a 30-minute window. That policy was not adequately disclosed to parents, the plaintiff’s putative class action complaint said, and left parents on the hook for charges they did not approve.
U.S. District Court Judge Ronald M. Whyte tossed several of the plaintiff’s claims, including claims brought under California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act and Unfair Competition Law, with leave to amend. However, the court found that Imber-Gluck sufficiently alleged that Google engaged in unfair, deceptive, or misleading advertising in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law.
Claims based on unjust enrichment and a breach of Google’s duty of good faith and fair dealing also survived. “[P]laintiff has alleged that Google encouraged children to make In-App Purchases, without providing notice to the parent or guardian of the 30-minute window in which the account holder’s password is not required to make subsequent purchases,” Judge Whyte wrote. “Such acts may frustrate the common purpose of the [terms of service] agreement by forcing parents to pay for purchases that Google induced parents’ minor children to make.”
To read the order in Imber-Gluck v. Google, click here.
Why it matters: In-app purchases by children in games marketed as free have made headlines recently. In February, the FTC settled a similar suit with Apple for $32.5 million based on a similar policy that allowed in-app purchases without the need to reenter a password. The agency followed up that action with a recent suit against Amazon, in which it charged the company with violations of the FTC Act and requested an order that Amazon reimburse parents for charges made by their children.