Google sued over Play store sales to kids

Here’s another controversial case involving kids and mobile apps: A New York woman has filed a lawsuit against Google that claims her child was lured into spending more than $65 on virtual “Crystals” without her knowledge, after she agreed to download a mobile game that costs just 99 cents.

The case echoes similar complaints against Apple that formed the basis of a lawsuit and a Federal Trade Commission settlement last year.

In the latest suit, filed last week in San Francisco’s federal court, attorneys for Ilana Imber-Gluck say many parents don’t realize that when they enter a password to authorize a download or purchase from Google’s Play Store, the company essentially keeps the account open for 30 minutes – allowing additional purchases on the same device without re-entering the account-holder’s password.

Imber-Gluck, whose two sons are aged four and five, says one of them went ahead and purchased the virtual currency known as Crystals after she left him alone to play Marvel Run Jump Smash on her Samsung tablet. Her lawyers are asking the court to certify her claim as a class action on behalf of other parents around the country who have been equally surprised to find charges for digital pet food, gold coins or other items from child-oriented games on their accounts.

The suit accuses Google and app-makers of deliberately making and distributing many kids’ games for free, or a nominal cost, while racking up big profits by enticing susceptible children into buying all kinds of virtual accessories.

Or as a headline writer for Consumer Reports put it, in an article about similar complaints earlier this year: “Google Play Store lets your kid spend like a drunken sailor.”

The suit also chides Google for not taking heed when thousands of similar complaints were raised against Apple for the way it handled games distributed through the iTunes store. Apple previously allowed any purchases made, without verification of a password, for 15 minutes after an initial sign-in. But the company ended that practice and now requires a password to be entered for each purchase – after settling a class-action lawsuit and a separate FTC complaint last year.

“Despite consumer outrage” over those cases, wrote lawyers for Imber-Gluck, Google hasn’t modified its policies. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 (Image of Pet Hotel, another game cited in the lawsuit, as reproduced in the complaint)

Brandon Bailey Brandon Bailey (326 Posts)

Brandon Bailey covers Google, Facebook and Yahoo for the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on the business and culture of the Internet.