By Kang Seung-woo
An office worker, identified by his family name Park, recently found an English dictionary on his smartphone’s application store.
However, the 33-year-old is still speculating on whether to purchase the $12 app because of the unreasonable refund policy.
“I know several people who have complained of not getting refunds for apps they were dissatisfied with or proved to be faulty,” he said.
“There are many consumers who are reluctant to purchase paid-for apps like me.”
There is growing criticism of online app stores _ dominated by Google’s Android Market and Apple’s App Store _ due to failure to comply with the domestic consumer protection act. The U.S.-based global companies say they are not subject to local rules given that apps are provided by their head office outside of Korea.
The nation’s anti-trust watchdog is considering measures to keep them in check, but it is in a cautionary mode because either of them could threaten to pull paid-for apps from the stores as Google did in Taiwan.
According to the Fair Trade Commission (FTC), the electronic commerce consumer protection act stipulates that apps can be refunded within 30 days of purchase or within one month of the date of fault detection.
Domestic app stores such as SK Telecom’s T Store, KT’s Olleh Market and LG Uplus’ OZ Store all abide by the act.
“Customers can easily be refunded by local app stores if they want within one month of purchase as mandated in the electronic commerce consumer protection act,” said an official of a local app store.
However, Google’s Android Market sticks to a 15-minute refund window for all bought apps, meaning that customers have 15 minutes from the time of downloading to receive a full refund. After the 15 minute return period expires, customers are required to directly contact the developers, according to the California-based information technology giant. Customers say that most apps are devised outside of Korea and if not, local developers are small-scale outfits, so it is not easy to get a refund after the time expiration.
“It does not make sense that we have just 15 minutes from an app download to find out if it lives up to expectations or proves to be faulty,” Park said.
As for Apple, there is no specific rule on refunds. If customers who downloaded a bought app want a refund, they are required to ask for one from the company’s head office in the United Sates. It will decide on a refund after reviewing the request.
The Korean unit of the Cupertino, California-based company declined to comment on the issue.
Google and Apple take up a controlling 84.7 percent market share in the local app sector but there are not enough regulations to control the two leading entities.
Given that their head offices offer services abroad, local rules are not applied to by Android Market and App Store. Both have local branches here but they do not deal with the sales of apps, which does not make them subject to the regulations imposed on local players.
“Their local branches have nothing to do with app sales, so we need to more closely review possible law enforcement,” said an official of the FTC.
“But as they do nothing on the issue, it is not easy to regulate with local rules.”
FTC Chairman Kim Dong-soo also said that it will review feasible measures.
“As the application of the electronic commerce consumer protection act is just limited to local companies, foreign-based players are not included in the FTC’s regulatory coverage,” he said in the audit and inspection of the government in October.
“As we also have other laws, we will closely look into the viability of regulating through them.”
Although the FTC is seeking measures to force the two firms to comply with local rules, any side effects may result in local consumers falling victim in the same manner as Taiwan.
In June last year, after being fined by the Taipei City Government for not offering a seven-day free trial when customers downloaded apps from the Android Market, the firm removed the purchasable apps from the online store.