Integrated purchases in apps and online games – consumer challenges


Yannick Labelle, Marcel Boucher


Union des consommateurs




The increased availability of mobile devices and data plans is leading consumers to make greater use of mobile devices and applications; Canadians have on average 19 apps on their
smartphones. The universe of mobile applications is a complex ecosystem in which numerous actors play a variety of roles. More and more mobile applications are now “freemium”: downloading them is free but involves the possibility of making in-app purchases that will supposedly improve the consumer’s experience or performance.

In Union des consommateurs (UC) field research, we downloaded and used 33 applications from the app stores that hold the largest market shares in Canada. This enabled UC to examine the sources of problems reported by consumers; the presence and effectiveness of disclosures made of the in-app purchases’ existence, types, prices and usefulness; and the procedure for acquiring the applications and making in-app purchases.

UC recommends cooperation between the various actors – industry, government authorities and consumer groups – to identify best practices and the most effective ways to protect consumers, notably against surprise bills generated by unauthorized in-app purchases. If the industry refuses to voluntarily adopt practices to better protect consumers, governments should take every available measure to ensure that business practices comply with consumer protection laws, and that consumers who use freemium applications are well protected and their rights respected.

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OCA Funded Research
This research received funding support through the Office of Consumer Affairs' Contributions Program.

Contact information

Union des consommateurs
7000 Parc Ave, Suite 201
Montreal, QC  H3N 1X1
(514) 521-6820
(514) 521-0736

Source: Consumer Policy Research Database

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