When you buy a product you expect that you have certain rights over it: you can opt to return it if faulty, or give it away when it no longer works for you. Digital software verges on trickier ground however, as can you really ‘own’ something virtual? What rights and recompense do you have when things go wrong?
There are currently four major mobile app stores, and all of them have decided to obscure their consumer practices in waves of jargon, extra long text files and confused clauses. Though I’m going to discuss your rights as a whole, I need to address each store separately as they all have their own confusing policies to navigate.
The common factor they have is that all state in their terms and conditions that they do NOT offer refunds, but all DO, in some form, though it takes a little digging to learn this. This is a serious issue- though many apps may charge .99 cents, a large number cost significantly more, and if you have paid $50 for a faulty TomTom app, you’re going to be seething.
Lawyer Ronald Mann, a member of the American Law Institute, who specializes in commercial law and electronic commerce says the problem is that “You’ve probably signed something saying you can’t complain.”
Marlisse Lerner from USA.Gov, a federal agency dedicated to providing information about government laws, told me that clarification on apps isn’t information she can provide, and then directed me to the state department for New York. When I reached out to them, I received an email saying my query would be addressed soon. Two weeks later, no answer.
Lisa Brown Shosteck from the Digital Marketing Association (DMA) says that the issue of app refunds ‘falls outside the scope of the DMA’ and that ‘App refund policies are specific to the app provider.’ The DMA’s mandate is to work closely with the FTC in getting rid of targeted mailings and helping consumers, but they consider app refunds- despite clearly being a digital property- not in their scope.
The fact that so far no agency is willing to take ownership of the app issue is concerning.
The FTC currently has a Mobile or Telephone Purchasing rule, and they describe it as “applying to most goods a customer orders from the seller by mail, telephone, fax, or on the Internet. It does not matter how the merchandise is advertised, how the customer pays, or who initiates the contact.”
They work with the Direct Marketing Association on this, to make it clearer for consumers. Problem is, this addresses products shipped to you- not ones that you instantly own on your mobile device.
Consumer rights about mobile apps vary from country to country. The UK for example has a long distance consumer-selling directive which means anything bought online- physical or virtual, is covered by a stringent return policy. In the US, no such clause exists.
Our very own Editor-in-Chief has had issues with accidental app purchases. “I bought Final Cut by mistake in the App store,“ said Helena.
“I thought I was getting the free trial and clicked the wrong button. I was amazed when a $300 dollar charge appeared on my statement.”
Helena managed to receive a refund from Apple, but she echoed my frustration that the process wasn’t more transparent. “I had to dig around to find out how,“ she said. “It’s very unclear.”
Consumers currently have no clear rights in terms of app store purchases, in part because the laws haven’t caught up to new technology yet. Till they do, make sure to carefully think about your purchases and to go with bigger names for expensive ones.
How to Get an App Refund:
Robert Mann suggests that the first step in getting your money back is to contact your debit or credit card provider. His legal perspective is that you have way more rights if you’re buying with a credit card, “The Electronic Transfer Act and Truth and Lending Act mean that you can claim a refund from your card company without having to go through the app store- if the app purchase is fraudulent, or faulty.”
There is no conclusive data about exactly what your personal rights are, and what companies are allowed to give you, but in the meantime, here are a few workarounds to help you process a refund.
The Stores: BlackBerry World, Google Play, App Store, and Windows Phone Store
BlackBerry World: Refunding an App
What they say: All Sales are final and Blackberry Commerce’s policy is not to provide refunds, unless the product is not available for download by you within a reasonable period of time after completion of the purchase. BlackBerry Commerce customer service will, in its sole discretion, either replace your order (by providing the product in a manner that allows you to download the product) or arrange for your purchase price to be refunded. Also, you get a refund If BlackBerry Commerce is required by the laws applicable in your jurisdiction to offer additional refund or warranty rights (no such law in the US).
What you can do: Contact the Exception Case support here and fill in the online form.
In the ‘select a component field,’ select the AppWorld Billing/Payment part. Then you wait.
Personal Experience: Frustrating. Blackberry really makes you run around looking for answers. Feedback on the forums shows other related issues such as your pin not being recognized when you try to process a refund.
App Store (Apple): How to Get a Refund
What they officially say: All sales and rentals of products are final. Further down their policy says that ‘if there are technical problems or an unreasonable delay of delivery of your product, your exclusive and sole remedy is either replacement or refund of the price paid, as determined by Apple.’
What you can do:
Go to iTunes Store
Click on ‘Purchases’
Scroll till you find the app you’re unhappy with.
Click report a problem
Offer a DETAILED reason why.
Personal experience: You do really have to wait here. In the past I’ve had money refunded within 36 hours, but refund time may vary for different accounts.
Google Play (Android): How to Get a Refund
What they officially say: All sales are final, and no returns, replacements or refunds are permitted. If a replacement, return or refund is granted for any transaction, the transaction may be reversed, and you may no longer be able to access the Product that you acquired through that transaction. However, they also say: In the case of Android apps, you should contact the developer concerning any defects or performance issues in the apps.
What you can do:
Within 15 minutes of purchase:
1.Launch the Google Play Store app on your device
2.Select Menu > My Apps
3. Select the app you’d like to return- a button next to it will say refund and open it.
4. Select the Refund option and click on uninstall. Voila.
After 15 minutes of purchase, the refund option will not be available, and you need to contact the app developer for a refund. These details will be in Step Three (above) – but now you need to scroll down to the developer information section and you should get a contact detail.
Personal experience: Apps can take longer than 15 minutes to download and GPS apps really need to be trialed. Big companies like TomTom are pretty good at customer service, but making expensive purchases with an unknown developer could make refunds tricky.
Windows Phone Store: How to Get a Refund
What they officially say: Their policy states that they offer no refunds, but forum advice suggests that you can get help in mitigating circumstances by contacting their support.
What you can do: Contact them via this link. Options are speaking to a ‘chat person’ or using their forum. The person is what you need here- the forum will just give you advice on how to speak to them.
Personal experience: It’s an annoying process. You have to login, navigate around different forms, and get out of speaking to an automated voice. It does pay off though— eventually.