Italy probes Google, Apple over adverts for 'free' mobile games

Apple, Google, Amazon and French games developer Gameloft face fines of up to €5 million ($6.8 million) each if they are found guilty of the alleged mis-selling of mobile apps in Italy.

The country's competition and antitrust authority opened an investigation into the four companies over concerns they are advertising mobile games as free, despite the fact the games all require users to make purchases to progress beyond certain points, Reuters reported.

Italian authorities are investigating whether the companies are misleading consumers by advertising the games as free, and failing to provide adequate information to consumers on how to prevent or restrict purchases while using the app.

Italy's antitrust authorities can levy a maximum fine of €5 million against each of the companies if the investigation finds them guilty of misselling the gaming apps. A spokeswoman for the authority told Reuters the probe could take up to eight months to complete, and is focused on an apparent lack of information for consumers about how to change payment settings, or stop them entirely. The spokeswoman said consumers should, at least, be aware of the full cost of games before they download them.

Earlier this year the European Commission called on apps developers to change the way they advertise apps that are available for free, but which later require purchases to be made on the user's credit card. At least half of mobile games available in Europe are advertised for free, the EC said.

Google has recently been rapped over the knuckles in Europe after the European Court of Justice ruled the company must allow individuals to request the removal of outdated search results, in what has been dubbed the "right to be forgotten".

Joaquin Almunia, EC vice president for competition policy, also last week defended the EC investigation into Google's business practices in online search and advertising, following criticism by the Open Internet Project (OIP) that the EC antitrust agreement with Google does not go far enough.

Almunia noted the probe has already resulted in Google agreeing to give equal prominence to rivals' search results, or inform consumers if it prioritises Google services.

For more:
- see this BBC article on Google
- see this EC press release

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