Did the FTC unfairly target Apple and let Google get away in-app free?

Did the FTC unfairly target Apple and let Google get away in-app free?

Earlier this week the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Apple would be coughing up at least $32 million for failing to properly inform parents about a 15-minute window that exists, post-password entry, through which their children could make additional purchases and rack up charges. The consent decree has been called into question by Apple and by individuals, based on precedent and based on conspiracy theories. Here's a sampling:

  1. Apple had already settled the case
  2. Charging Apple under "unfair acts or practices" in this manner was unprecedented
  3. Google's in-app purchase safeguards are "drunken sailor" worse and they've received zero attention from the FTC, which may or may not be because
  4. The new FTC chair was previously a partner at the law firm representing Google and Samsung that leaked information about the Nokia settlement.

The first one, leveled by Apple's Tim Cook in his memo, and the second one, part of the dissenting opinion by an FTC commissioner, seem legitimately odd.

The third one may offend anyone predisposed towards Apple, or with a sense of fairness. However, a case against Apple really has nothing to do with a case, or lack of a case, against Google. If the conditions are similar and the FTC is serious about addressing in-app purchases, we'll see a similar consent decree from Google and anyone else in the IAP-based market. If not, well, we'll see that too.

As to conspiracy theories, I generally find in real life, like in movies and TV shows, people simply aren't smart enough to pull them off. Given the ebook case, however, I think it would behoove the FTC, DOJ, and US regulators and legislators in general to make sure they avoid even the appearance of impropriety when it comes to Apple, and make sure they're only and always addressing the industry as a whole, and the issues that face consumers and citizens.

Check out the links above and let me know, what you think. Is Apple being unfairly targeted, are they getting what they deserve, or is this simply the price Apple has to get used to paying for being the most valuable name in technology today?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Did the FTC unfairly target Apple and let Google get away in-app free?


Don't you think it's a bit sad to be playing the world is against apple card when they are the largest corporation in the world?

Apple never admits they are wrong (hence why they only act when they are forced to by the courts), and this situation is no different.

Try something differerent. How about an opinion on of you think the FTC did a good thing, or do you feel consumers should fend for themselves?

I'm guessing you're not addressing that to me, since it doesn't reflect what I wrote :)

Apple isn't the largest company in the world, though they're certainly one of the largest. However, I'm not sure size (either way) should determine treatment under the law? Precedent set against large companies could be used against small ones, no?

Also, Apple already settled the case, and paid out, before the FTC took action, so this is a secondary action.

All that aside, I already stated my opinion. I think the first two (double jeopardy and precedent) are concerning, but that it's too soon to tell on fairness.

What about you, what's your opinion?

I'm not gonna get into whatever that long discussion you guys are having but just for some clarity. Double jeopardy is being tried for the same crime. If the charges are different than there's no double jeopardy. If there's no a conviction or acquittal, in the case of a dismissal before trial starts or settlement agreement before jury is empaneled then double jeopardy doesn't apply. Double jeopardy also has a limited scope of cases where it would apply. It doesn't apply in civil cases. There are some exceptions but generally it's only for criminal charges.

You do realize apple settled a class action case correct? Class action law suits have nothing to do with the ftc. And again, I must comment that you do not understand what double jeopardy is, and it appears you are just parroting the line from Cook.

Anyway it's clear you aren't really concerned about the user but more of the corporation on this topic. It's a bit sad.

What te FTC is forcing apple to do is a good thing for everyone except apple. I have yet to hear any coherent arguments on why its a bad thing for the end user, only that it is unfair and apple is the victim.

Now I'm really confused. Could you please take a moment to read what I actually wrote in the article? That would go a long way towards helping us have a productive discussion!

$32 million is insignificant to Apple. But would a good thing for consumers also be addressing the issue industry wide?

So you are suggesting the FTC should let companies slide with violations and instead should b focusing on making new laws (perhaps a new branch of the government)? Yikes.

P.s. Continuing to parrot "read the article" instead of responding to criticism is weak sauce

Could you perhaps relate your criticism to what I actually wrote and stick with regular instead of loaded questions so I'm better able to respond to them?

Let's also both agree not to violate Wheaton's law any further :)

I actually benefited quite a bit from your explaining your views in the comments, so thanks for that. Overall I think the FTC tackling IAP is good for consumers, but ultimately it will hinge on whether or not those unaddressed by the class action, and those affected by stores other than Apple's, are informed and benefit from the additional action. (If we're being encompassing and future looking.)

I do agree with your assertion that there had better be similar actions directed towards google, and any other App Store of consequence. If not, then something is fishy

not really. Apple already committed to making everyone whole. What the FTC did was state if the total amount to make everyone whole was less than 32million, they still had to pay 32 million and the left over funds goto the FTC..

Bascially, the FTC gets some money, where prior the FTC didn't.. The people involved were going to be made whole in both cases.. you REALLY should read up prior..

Also, the FTC has everything to do with the Class action. There are 2 types of cases. Criminal and Civil. FTC was forcing a CIVIL, not criminal.. and the Class action was CIVIL.. in which case it IS DOUBLE JEOPARDY.

The FTC rarely deals with criminal cases. They are almost exclusively civil cases to make sure people are made whole.. IE they deal in trade.. you know, the 'Trade' part of Federal Trade Commission.

The only time you get a 2nd hit is when you have both a civil AND criminal cases. OJ Simpson is a good example. He won the criminal case, but lost the civil case.

The FTC might have brought a criminal case against Apple, but it is MUCH harder to win a criminal case than Civil. It would have been unusual. Basically, Apple would likely have won, but from what Tim Cook said, he didn't see it worth fighting since they were already making the people whole.

Were I them, I'd make sure every penny of the 32million went to the people. lol FTC doesn't need any extra cash.

No they didn't. Apple agreed to pay everyone in the class action. The FTC is forcing apple to pay everyone affected by this and to change thier policies. Something apple claims they conveniently were planning on doing all along.

Now as for civil cases. You are of thought that you can only be used by one person over a particular case? Do you know how a class action even starts (hint: it's because multiple people are suing in a civil matter).

They agreed to pay the class action, (a civil case).. As for the FTC forcing to pay everyone.. who's everyone? You don't get to sue for the future Richard.. You can't say, everyone complaining now, oh.. and more for others who MIGHT complain later, maybe!

if Apple disagreed, it would have, you guessed it, been a civil suit for something that was already determined.

You go with who has a complaint.. period. The FTC is saying they want a fund for future possible complaints.. for an unforeseen amount of time. Thats your 'everyone' you keep pointing too.

The irony is, if they didn't get in on the class action civil suit then, they are NOT likely to get into it later! So the money sits.. in the FTC. glorious idea.

Crystal balls need to stay out of the court.

Everyone is every customer of the App Store (as opposed to whomever joined the class action) and you are wrong again as it does cover the future in that it is in effect for all past and future purchases up to 3/14.

You have to respect a commissioners opinion but what gets lost in the story is four other commissioners disagreed wth him (somehow thier opinions are not as respected)

I'd argue their opinions were respected more because, consent. However, the raising of questions and exploration of nuance benefits everyone in the long run, right?

Agree. But you would also agree that with five independent commissioners, it would be odd for them to always have 100% agreement ( i could be wrong as I don't know then actual data). To use this as a data point of significance seems specious to me.

Double Jeopardy only applies to criminal case. It does not apply to civil cases.

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Well apple likes to make it like their customers are dumb, and unable to make decisions on their own so no the FTC did not give google a pass. I am sure if it happened and someone complained about google something similar would result.

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Apple doesn't think people are dumb. They think people deserve equal access to technology. (Though they may think we have bad taste.) Even if Apple did think their customers were "dumb", however, what does that have to do with the FTC decision?

Isn't it, in fact, the opposite? That the FTC doesn't think Apple treated us as being dumb enough? (Better explained and controlled how IAP could be used?)

Hold up guys... I need to get some more popcorn for this troll-a-thon.

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Apple has a new and very simple solution built into the iP5S with their fingerprint scanner and something that SHOULD have been in the iPad Air. They could simply require passcode entry or fingerprint scanning to approve purchases. Instead I am forced to input a password everytime I want to buy something which as a mid 40 something adult is a joke.

While I do feel Apple should have addressed this "feature" in the app store during one of their many launches this society FAILS on a daily basis by simply not owning up and being responsible. Parents give their kids an iPad to be a babysitter and to placate them. How about actually being responsible for them and making the IAP feature something that REQUIRES a password or fingerprint scan for each one.

Sadly it seems like Apple couldn't produce Touch ID chips fast enough to roll them out for iPad in 2013. Hopefully 2014 will change that.

I'm a huge fan of personal responsibility. One of the challenges of creating new technology like IAP is that repercussion modeling is really difficult. It's hard to predict what will go wrong, on a massive scale, with something that hasn't been tried before.

IAP purchasing wouldn't have taken off if people had responsibility. It's not Apple's fault but they need to make it more clear. Google and Microsoft and BB too. IAP preys on the implusive and unaware.

I knew from the first time I downloaded anything that there was a 15 minute window to continue downloading. Maybe these parents should have been more aware of what their kids were doing. And Google should certainly be as libel as Apple. I am new to the Apple world but for some it is a case of us against them. There have been so many predictions of Apple failing and it doesn't happen because so many want what they offer. But fair is fair and everyone should be measured with the same yardstick.

Damn Rene, I feel sorry for you. I think the idea of "reading an article/comment and then responding to comments made in that article/comment" is a hard concept for some people to grasp.

On your article, I know for a fact that Google's in-app (and simple purchasing of apps) safeguards are much looser than Apple's. But, as user Solamar points out, payouts only go to people who complain and maybe Android customers just aren't as concerned (read aware/alert) about it as Apple's customers? I'm not sure.

It's also possible that since Apple began IAP sooner, they faced FTC action sooner. Again, we'll have to wait and see.

I think Apple was targeted because competitors such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon & Samsung spend a lot of money on lobbying in an attempt to bring Apple down.

Lets all step back and remember the most important factor in this. Apple by their own bragging sells for $$$ the most apps on smartphones and tablets. They brag about this at every event when they do their updates on apps sold in iOS app store and how they bring the most money in for their developers. They also had the best phone games 1st as well as the best tablet games. They also target the more wealthy demographic of buyers. I think it only stands to reason that some of those people got really upset when their kids ran up big bills by the way the store was setup to allow purchases for 15 min after the code was entered. Now look at Android. Just in the last 12 months has their game offerings gotten really good and I'd argue that less Android customers ran into this issue because at the time if the original suit more ipads were given to kids to play on than any android tablet or phone. If no one filed suit against Google then why would they fine them as well? As unfair as it maybe it would be more unfair to fine Google for something that no one has won a suit for.

Apple have a lot of cash that people want. Maybe this is the new stimulus package?

And whether I agree or disagree with the legitimacy of the claims it is looking like Apple has a bigger target than usual on it's back.

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They're wrong? They should pay regardless of other companies being charged.

Anything relating to Google is irrelevant. Apple's case is in a silo and in that silo...they deserve it.

Whether Google deserves it or not, I think it's a bit harder since Android has child profiles. Phones don't have them so that's still a problem.

Maybe they will. I won't complain since things like this are great for us.

The difference is that there were real documented cases of harm from Apples side, brought by people with the proper standing. When the govt did not think Apple's settlement included necessary safeguards, they went further.

That is not to say Google Play policies are any better, just that so much less business gets done there that no cases have yet surfaced. If and when they do, and Google is not similarly rebuked, then we have a discussion. Until then, let's drop the pitchforks and persecution complex.

I also think Apple got to the IAP game earlier, and so the FTC hit them earlier.

I don't know enough about U.S. system to understand how a judge agreeing to a settlement, but the FTC thinking it doesn't go far enough, affects it historically or in general.

That's a fair point too -- Apple did get into the game earlier.

Another I have heard is that Apple should be more scrutinized than Google, because they are the ones that promise a safe, curated App Store experience, whereas Google Play does not. That's true, as far is it goes, but I'm not sure the FTC would or should split such hairs in this case.

I'm not very familiar with Google's processes when it comes to their Play Store so at first I thought the reason the FTC didn't file a similar case against Google was because it's easier to request a refund for purchases made from the Play Store. Though after reading the links posted and also a bit of browsing, I found out I was wrong. Turns out IAP cannot be refunded by Google and if a customer wishes to do so, they'll need to contact the app's developer directly for the refund.
Interesting. I guess we'll just have to wait and see how these things will turn out.

Question: Did the FTC unfairly target Apple and let Google get away in-app free?
Answer: Yes! But, it will be their turn very VERY soon .....

For now, google is busy defending their a$$ in all other parts of the world ... Canada, UK and etc.

P.S. It appears the shiny new FTC chairlady has been trying to reserve her seat at google!

Interesting read! You just never know are connected and could have some kind if conflict if interest. Maybe that was Apple's issue.

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I hope Google change its window of opportunity to buy a paid app ASAP. Really should be an option. As for will google get the same punishment well i doubt it. Chances are the ftc will warn Google to change it where as Apple were in a law suit with consumers so the situations are not exactly the same. Let's be honest iap recently got added to Android and the tablet platform didn't really boom till last year (which is where I'm guessing kids play games etc) so the impact accidental iap purchase has yet to effect the play store so no lawsuits have yet been targeted at Google. Also maybe because of the refund period and the easier refund policy of the play store maybe another reason why it hasn't been that big of an issue. None the less hopefully the option to require password all time is added soon.

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So it's Apples fault parents don't monitor what their kids are doing?

Gotta love America! The finger of blame is always pointed at someone else! Smh

Apple, Google and companies like EA should be taken to task for the way consumers are being taken advantage of regarding IAP. The fact is that yes, if you an adult you should be able to make a decision, but really there is not much difference between an online casino and freemium games with IAP. They are addictive and people are being taken advantage of, when a lot of people become addicted to certain games just like a gambler becomes addicted to gambling.
Online Casinos are regulated and quite honestly, I can't see much difference between the Candy Crush Sagas out there and a slot machine in an online casino.
Yes, consumers should vote with their wallets and get rid of freemium apps, by not supporting them, but in reality they are preying on people that become addicted.

A possible solution would be to enforce how people pay for IAP. Allow credit card purchases for standard apps, but force people to buy App Store cards for IAP. This way if you want spend money on IAP, you first need to go out to your local store to buy an App Store card. This might make people think twice and remove the easy impulsive IAPs when you are using a credit card.

As much as I totally love the products that Apple bring to us, they should never be untouchable and if Apple has decided to control their App Store with an iron fist, they should morally also be protecting their consumers.

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