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March 11, 2014

First Apple, now Google hit with kids' app lawsuit

Last month, 4- and 5-year-old brothers in New York quickly spent $65.95 in real money to buy virtual goods in Marvel's Run Jump Splash game on the family tablet. They were able to rack up the charges without entering a password. And for that, the boys' mother has joined a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday against Google, accusing the company of deceiving consumers about its in-app purchase system, which critics say makes it too easy for kids to spend money on their Android devices.

The case mirrors a class-action suit and Federal Trade Commission action against Apple for similar practices that had consumers decrying hundreds of dollars in surprise and unwanted in-app charges on games targeted toward children. The new suit also begs the question of why Google, seeing Apple's three-year-long public relations and legal headache over the issue, didn't follow Apple in strengthening billing protections for families. In 2012, Apple changed its in-app purchase system so that a password has to be entered every time a user wants to buy virtual currency or goods in an app.

Now, parents want Google to close its 30-minute window for unlimited purchases within an app and are seeking at least $5 million in damages. Google, which operates the Android Google Play app store, declined to comment on the suit.

Lawyers for more than 100 parents in the class-action suit say that by allowing kids to purchase goods online and without a password, Google Play took advantage of young children who won't exercise the same financial judgment as adults. Children may not fully understand that when they buy a virtual gold coin, fruit or crystal to advance levels in a game, their parents will be billed for the charges.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Northern California, alleges that Google designed its in-app purchase system in a way that targets children. Popular apps such as Pet Hotel are free on Google Play and earn money through in-app purchases.

"A parents could enter his or her password to permit a child to download a free gaming App, and then allow the child to download and play the game," plaintiffs said in the suit. "What Google did not tell parents, however, is that their children [were] then able to purchase (virtual) currency for 30 minutes without any supervision, oversight or authorization."

In January, the FTC sought $32.5 million in a settlement with Apple over its in-app purchases. The federal agency would not comment on Google's practices, but European Commission regulators said last month that they would investigate complaints of Google's in-app practices.

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Poll

Should the date for The World's Largest Garage Sale be changed from the third weekend in July to sometime in October to take advantage of cooler weather like we had this past weekend?

No. It's better in the summer cause kids are out of school.
Yes. More shoppers would come during nice fall weather.
Either time is fine.

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