Misleading free-trial period for mobile app

December 14, 2017

Dear Consumer Ed:

My child has an iPad, which I have set up so that he cannot download apps unless I approve them from my device.  I recently downloaded an app for him that implied there was a free one-year trial period.  After downloading the app, I got an email explaining that while the subscription was for a one-year period, the free trial only lasted 30 days.  I think that is very misleading.  The other issue I have with this offer is that when I signed up it said I could cancel the app before it automatically renewed, but that I would have to do so from my child’s device settings.  It seems reasonable to me that if I can approve the subscription from my device, I should be able to delete it from my device as well.  Are there rules or laws about these issues?

Consumer Ed says:

If an advertisement implies that there is a free one-year trial subscription when in fact the free trial only lasts 30 days, this may be considered a deceptive advertisement because it misleads consumers.

If you have been wrongly charged for a free trial offer or if you believe that an advertisement was misleading, you should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.gov or with the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit at www.consumer.ga.gov or 404-651-8600.  You can also file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) which tries to resolve disputes between consumers and businesses, and works with both parties to attempt to reach a resolution that is fair.    

Additionally, here are some tips from the FTC regarding free trial subscriptions:

  • Research the company online providing the app.
  • Find the terms and conditions for the offer.
  • Look for who’s behind the offer.
  • Watch out for pre-checked boxes.
  • Mark your calendar for when the free trial ends.
  • Look for information on how you can cancel the subscription.
  • Read your credit and debit card statements to make sure you haven’t been charged.

Unfortunately, there are not any rules or laws regarding whether or not you should be able to cancel the application from your device instead of your child’s device, even though you approved the subscription on your device.   

Submit your own question to Consumer Ed.  Remember…we do not give legal advice. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.