Google is introducing a small but important update to its Chrome browser, one designed to prevent consumers from being swindled by underhanded or unclear mobile subscription services.
Some web pages invite visitors to input their mobile phone number in order to subscribe to some kind of service, such as a mobile game, but it’s not always clear how much they will be charged or even if that they are being charged at all.
This is enabled by a service known as carrier billing, something that allows users to bypass more laborious subscription methods by having a fee charged directly to their mobile phone bill. It is actually an incredibly useful service for many things, as it removes much of the friction of paying for things online — and it also means you don’t need to have a credit card on hand.
But content or service providers capitalize on this ease by obfuscating key information from the sign-up process, such as costs and whether it’s a one-off or recurring fee.
Above: Example mobile subscription scam
Starting from December 2018 with the launch of Chrome 71, Google’s browser on mobile and desktop, as well as in Android WebView, will display a warning if it detects that there is insufficient mobile subscription information available to the user.
“We want to make sure Chrome users understand when they are going through a billing flow and trust that they’ll be able to make informed decisions while browsing the web,” Google wrote in a blog post announcing this update.
Visitors will be given the option to proceed to a webpage, but by default the highlighted option is to return to the previous page.
Above: Chrome’s warning
The owner of the website is also sent a warning through the Google Search console that their mobile billing page needs improvement, and the webmaster can inform Google once it has made the necessary changes — if Google accepts their update, the warning is then removed.
“Every month, millions of Chrome users encounter pages with insufficient mobile subscription information,” Google added. “Surprising charges that come from unclear communication are a poor user experience.”
In short, if you actively seek subscriptions through mobile phone numbers on the web, you will need to be much clearer with the costs and billing structure before the user signs up. Otherwise, your website could be flagged with a warning.
Chrome has a history of proactively warning visitors of potential dubious activity on certain websites. Google recently changed how it alerts users to a website’s security, for example, as it now uses a red “Not secure” label on HTTP websites.