Italy probes Apple, Google and Amazon over 'free' mobile games

Italy's antitrust and competition authority is investigating Apple, Google, Amazon and French game developer Gameloft for unfair commercial practices regarding their "free" mobile games, which use in-app purchases to generate revenue.

The Italian regulator is probing whether the companies are misleading consumers by advertising their mobile apps as free when in-app purchases are required to continue playing the games beyond a certain point.

"The probe will verify whether the conducts can be regarded as unfair commercial practices: consumers could falsely believe that the game is entirely free and, in any case, that they would know in advance the full costs of the game. Moreover, insufficient information seems to be provided to consumers about the settings needed to stop or limit the purchases within the app," the regulator said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the regulator told Reuters that the investigation would likely be concluded within seven to eight months. The maximum fine per company would be €5 million ($6.9 million), she noted.

In January, the U.K.'s Office of Fair Trade issued final principles directing mobile game developers to tell consumers "upfront" about costs associated with "free" games. "The principles also make clear that in-game payments are not authorised, and should not be taken, unless the payment account holder, such as a parent, has given his or her express, informed consent," OFT said in a release.

In March, the European Commission launched an investigation into whether developers of "free" mobile games where misleading consumers, especially parents and children, about the potential costs and advertising associated with the games.

For more:
- see the Italian antirust regulator's release
- read the Reuters report
- check out the OFT release

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