U.S. sues Amazon over children’s in-app purchases

July 10, 2014, 6:15 PM UTC
Photo by Bloomberg — Getty Images

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is suing Amazon (AMZN) for charging parents for unauthorized in-app purchases made by children.

In a lawsuit filed in a Seattle federal court Thursday, the FTC is seeking to have the online retail giant return “millions of dollars” in mobile app charges incurred by kids without parental permission, and to have Amazon banned from the practice of allowing customers to make unlimited purchases without having to enter a password, or go through some other type of authorization process.

In its complaint, the FTC points to apps aimed at children, such as Ice Age Village, in which players can purchase virtual game items with real currency. The FTC specifically notes instances where parents complained that their children either did not realize they were spending actual money in the games, or were simply clicking on “a lot of buttons at random.” The daughters of one consumer racked up $358.42 in unauthorized charges.

Amazon said in a letter to the FTC on July 1 that it planned to fight the case, which the commission has been investigating for some time, and the online retailer also said it has already refunded customers who notified the company that their children made unauthorized purchases. Amazon said at the time that it had been trying to reach a reasonable settlement through negotiations with the FTC.

An Amazon spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In January, the FTC settled a similar case against Apple, which resulted in that company agreeing to refund at least $32.5 million to Apple App Store customers whose children had made purchases without their permission. Apple also agreed to change its billing practices to make sure all app charges are made with parental permission.

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