Google Chrome to Alert Mobile Subscription Deceit

November 22, 2018
Samantha Brachat

Google will soon be rolling out yet another safeguard on its Chrome browser to protect users from deceitful charges on their mobile devices.


Cracking Down on Carrier Billing Charges

In the ongoing battle against digital fraud, Google recently announced in a company blog post that it will be releasing an update to Chrome that will include a feature that warns mobile internet users about possible subscription charges deemed to be malicious.

The article states that millions of internet browsers are exposed to pages with “insufficient mobile subscription information” every month like the example seen below. These charges attempt to exploit the “carrier billing” method - purchases that are directly charged to the user’s mobile phone account (similar to how roaming and long distance charges are billed). Mobile users who encounter this type of method don’t actually have to enter payment details of any kind; they simply enter their mobile number and are then accrued an additional charge on their monthly service bill.

unclear mobile subscriptionImage Source: Google Blog


Identification and Prevention

Google has released three key criteria that will be used as both a way of identifying malicious subscription sites as well as providing webmasters with the information needed to correct themselves.

In short, billing needs to be clearly visible and obvious to users, customers need to be able to easily see the costs they’re going to incur prior to accepting the terms, and the fee structure needs to be simple and understandable.

Failure to follow the above steps will result in Chrome presenting mobile browsers with the following warning message:

Image Source: Google Blog


Webmasters of guilty pages will be notified via the Search Console, where they will need to file an appeal with Google on what changes were made to adhere to the new guidelines. If an infringing website isn’t on the Search Console, Google claims that they will attempt to contact the site owners.

More information on this can be found on Google’s support forum, located here.


Chrome’s Mobile Market

When it comes to mobile market share, Google’s Chrome is the mobile browser of choice for close to 57% of users worldwide, with the second most popular mobile browser being Safari at 18.5%. The impact of this update to any website who may be conducting this practice (or even more legitimate mobile subscription sites that aren’t clearly laying out their billing structure) is nothing short of substantial.

Image Source: Statcounter

As seen above, Chrome usage as been steadily growing month-over-month, with no sign indicating that these growth trends will change anytime soon.


Staying Compliant

2018 has been an eventful year in terms of protecting user privacy and countering digital deceit. With GDPR now in full effect, major digital platforms like Microsoft and Facebook have been making a series of sweeping changes to try and provide more transparency and safety to the public.

Chrome in particular has been busy in 2018, as earlier this year it launched a new ad blocker tool to counter advertisements that were deemed to be too intrusive and confusing to navigate away from.

To ensure your mobile subscription site doesn’t get flagged as a guilty offender, following the above criteria is a great starting point. In addition to that, Google has documented a best practices guide for webmasters to gain even clearer understanding on what exactly needs to be done to keep their pages clean.

For websites that already meet the above requirements, no further action will be necessary. But if there is even the slightest doubt that there may be some confusion in your billing process, we highly recommend reviewing the above documentation. As this update goes live before the end of year, you won’t want to spend the first portion of 2019 trying to unflag your website for being malicious and bouncing traffic from your subscription signup page.

If you have any additional questions about compliance in the billing and payments space, feel free to reach out to our client services team. They’ll be happy to help you stay on top of all the rapid changes in the space to keep your company in the good books and help position you to capitalize on more digital revenue!

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