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EU to investigate freemium apps

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The EU is getting a bit concerned about freemium apps, and is talking to major companies including Google and Apple this week about the issue.

In a recently released statement, the EU’s European Commission says it wants to look into games and apps that can be downloaded for free but then have in-app purchases.  The Commission’s argument is that while the apps might be downloadable for free, calling them free when you really need to pay money to unlock functionality isn’t really on.

The main issue, as you’ve probably guessed, is the targeting of kids who get their Angry Birds on and then start running up a hefty bill for all the miscellaneous extras and power-ups.  (Hardcore gamers might also point to EA’s recent freemium reboot of PC classic Dungeon Keeper, which is nearly impossible to play without paying to speed things up.)

The EC’s planning to meet with several consumer watchdog companies across Europe, with Apple, Google and other app distributors asked to comment.  The talks start today and run through tomorrow.  The EC will specifically stress that free games “should not mislead consumers about the true costs” and “not contain direct exhortations to children to buy items.”

The EC also wants to see the industry stop automatic debiting of money from on-file credit cards and to have developers provide contact emails for queries or complaints.  It notes, though, that no action has been taken yet and it’s unsure about whether it will carry on to make these standards legally binding.