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Notice

Google Inc.; Analysis to Aid Public Comment

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AGENCY:

Federal Trade Commission.

ACTION:

Proposed Consent Agreement.

SUMMARY:

The consent agreement in this matter settles alleged violations of federal law prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The attached Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes both the allegations in the draft complaint and the terms of the consent order—embodied in the consent agreement—that would settle these allegations.

DATES:

Comments must be received on or before October 6, 2014.

ADDRESSES:

Interested parties may file a comment at https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/​ftc/​googleplayconsent online or on paper, by following the instructions in the Request for Comment part of the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below. Write “Google Inc.—Consent Agreement; File No. 122 3237” on your comment and file your comment online at https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/​ftc/​googleplayconsent by following the instructions on the web-based form. If you prefer to file your comment on paper, mail your comment to the following address: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Suite CC-5610 (Annex D), Washington, DC 20580, or deliver your comment to the following address: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Constitution Center, 400 7th Street SW., 5th Floor, Suite 5610 (Annex D), Washington, DC 20024.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Duane Pozza, Bureau of Consumer Protection, (202-326-2042), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20580.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Pursuant to Section 6(f) of the Federal Trade Start Printed Page 54279Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. 46(f), and FTC Rule 2.34, 16 CFR 2.34, notice is hereby given that the above-captioned consent agreement containing consent order to cease and desist, having been filed with and accepted, subject to final approval, by the Commission, has been placed on the public record for a period of thirty (30) days. The following Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes the terms of the consent agreement, and the allegations in the complaint. An electronic copy of the full text of the consent agreement package can be obtained from the FTC Home Page (for September 4, 2014), on the World Wide Web, at http://www.ftc.gov/​os/​actions.shtm.

You can file a comment online or on paper. For the Commission to consider your comment, we must receive it on or before October 6, 2014. Write “Google Inc.—Consent Agreement; File No. 122 3237” on your comment. Your comment—including your name and your state—will be placed on the public record of this proceeding, including, to the extent practicable, on the public Commission Web site, at http://www.ftc.gov/​os/​publiccomments.shtm. As a matter of discretion, the Commission tries to remove individuals' home contact information from comments before placing them on the Commission Web site.

Because your comment will be made public, you are solely responsible for making sure that your comment does not include any sensitive personal information, like anyone's Social Security number, date of birth, driver's license number or other state identification number or foreign country equivalent, passport number, financial account number, or credit or debit card number. You are also solely responsible for making sure that your comment does not include any sensitive health information, like medical records or other individually identifiable health information. In addition, do not include any “[t]rade secret or any commercial or financial information which . . . is privileged or confidential,” as discussed in Section 6(f) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 46(f), and FTC Rule 4.10(a)(2), 16 CFR 4.10(a)(2). In particular, do not include competitively sensitive information such as costs, sales statistics, inventories, formulas, patterns, devices, manufacturing processes, or customer names.

If you want the Commission to give your comment confidential treatment, you must file it in paper form, with a request for confidential treatment, and you have to follow the procedure explained in FTC Rule 4.9(c), 16 CFR 4.9(c).[1] Your comment will be kept confidential only if the FTC General Counsel, in his or her sole discretion, grants your request in accordance with the law and the public interest.

Postal mail addressed to the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security screening. As a result, we encourage you to submit your comments online. To make sure that the Commission considers your online comment, you must file it at https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/​ftc/​googleplayconsent by following the instructions on the web-based form. If this Notice appears at http://www.regulations.gov/​#!home, you also may file a comment through that Web site.

If you file your comment on paper, write “Google Inc.—Consent Agreement; File No. 122 3237” on your comment and on the envelope, and mail your comment to the following address: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Suite CC-5610 (Annex D), Washington, DC 20580, or deliver your comment to the following address: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Constitution Center, 400 7th Street SW., 5th Floor, Suite 5610 (Annex D), Washington, DC 20024. If possible, submit your paper comment to the Commission by courier or overnight service.

Visit the Commission Web site at http://www.ftc.gov to read this Notice and the news release describing it. The FTC Act and other laws that the Commission administers permit the collection of public comments to consider and use in this proceeding as appropriate. The Commission will consider all timely and responsive public comments that it receives on or before October 6, 2014. You can find more information, including routine uses permitted by the Privacy Act, in the Commission's privacy policy, at http://www.ftc.gov/​ftc/​privacy.htm.

Analysis of Proposed Consent Order to Aid Public Comment

The Federal Trade Commission (“Commission”) has accepted, subject to final approval, an agreement containing a consent order from Google Inc. (“Google”).

The proposed consent order has been placed on the public record for 30 days for receipt of comments by interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After 30 days, the Commission will again review the agreement and the comments received, and will decide whether it should withdraw from the agreement and take appropriate action or make final the agreement's proposed order.

Google bills consumers for charges related to activity within software applications (“apps”) that consumers download to their mobile devices from Google's Google Play store. This matter concerns Google's billing for charges incurred by children in apps that are likely to be used by children without having obtained the account holders' express informed consent.

The Commission's proposed complaint alleges that Google offers thousands of apps, including games that children are likely to play, and that in many instances, children can obtain virtual items within a game app that cost money. Google bills parents and other adult account holders for items that cost money within an app—“in-app charges.” In connection with billing for children's in-app charges, Google in many instances did not request a password or other method to obtain account holder authorization. Currently, in connection with billing for children's in-app charges, Google only sometimes requests a parent's Google password. In many instances, once the password is entered, Google begins a thirty-minute window during which purchases can be made by children without further action by the account holder. During this process, Google in many instances has not informed account holders that password entry will approve a charge or initiate a thirty-minute window during which children using the app can incur charges without further action by the account holder. The Commission's proposed complaint alleges that, through these practices, Google often has failed to obtain parents' informed consent to charges incurred by children, which constitutes an unfair practice under Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The proposed order contains provisions designed to prevent Google from engaging in the same or similar acts or practices in the future. Part I of the proposed order requires Google to obtain express, informed consent to in-app charges before billing for such charges, and to allow consumers to revoke consent to prospective in-app charges at any time. As defined in the proposed order, express, informed consent requires an affirmative act communicating authorization of an in-app charge (such as entering a password), made proximate to both an in-app activity for which Google is Start Printed Page 54280billing a charge and a clear and conspicuous disclosure of material information about the charge. Under the definition, the act and disclosure must be reasonably calculated to ensure that the person providing consent is the account holder (as opposed to the child). The proposed order would require the disclosure to appear at least once per mobile device.

Part II of the proposed order requires Google to provide full refunds to Google account holders who have been billed by Google for unauthorized in-app charges incurred by minors, for a year following entry of the order. If Google's refunds total less than $19 million, Google will remit any remaining balance to the Commission to be used for informational remedies, further redress, or payment to the U.S. Treasury as equitable disgorgement. To effectuate refunds, Google must send an electronic notice to its consumers that clearly and conspicuously discloses the availability of refunds and instructions on how to obtain such refunds. Within 30 days of the end of the one-year redress period, Google must provide the Commission with records of refund requests, refunds paid, and any refunds denied.

Parts III through VII of the proposed order are reporting and compliance provisions. Part III of the proposed order requires Google to maintain and upon request make available certain compliance-related records, including certain consumer complaints and refund requests, for a period of five years. Part IV is an order distribution provision that requires Google to provide the order to current and future principals, officers, and corporate directors, as well as current and future managers, employees, agents, and representatives who participate in certain duties related to the subject matter of the proposed complaint and order.

Part V requires Google to notify the Commission of corporate changes that may affect compliance obligations within 14 days of such a change. Part VI requires Google to submit a compliance report 90 days after entry of the order. It also requires Google to submit additional compliance reports within 10 business days of a written request by the Commission. Part VII is a provision “sunsetting” the order after 20 years, with certain exceptions.

The purpose of this analysis is to aid public comment on the proposed order. It is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the complaint or proposed order, or to modify in any way the proposed order's terms.

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By direction of the Commission, Commissioner Wright recused.

Donald S. Clark,

Secretary.

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Footnotes

1.  In particular, the written request for confidential treatment that accompanies the comment must include the factual and legal basis for the request, and must identify the specific portions of the comment to be withheld from the public record. See FTC Rule 4.9(c), 16 CFR 4.9(c).

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[FR Doc. 2014-21621 Filed 9-10-14; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 6750-01-P