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 its 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 dont 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 its a one-off or recurring fee. Example mobile subscription scamStarting from December 2018 with the launch of Chrome 71, Googles 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 theyll 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. Chromes warningThe 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 websites security, for example, as it now uses a red Not secure label on HTTP websites.
Google today announced that Chrome will soon get a new feature that aims to stop mobile subscription scams. Those are the kind of sites that ask you for your phone number and that then, unbeknownst to you, sign you up for a mobile subscription thats billed through your carrier. Starting with the launch of Chrome 71 in December, Google will pop up a prominent warning when a site doesnt make it clear that users are signing up for a mobile subscription. To make sure that developers who are legitimately using this flow to offer users a subscription dont get caught up in this new system, Google also published a set of best practices for mobile billing today. Generally, developers are expected to make their billing information visible and obvious to users, display the actual cost and have a simple and straightforward fee structure. If that information is not available, Google will throw up a prominent full-page warning, but users can always opt to proceed. Before throwing up the warning page, Google will notify webmasters in the Search Console when it detects a potential scam (theres always a chance for false positives, after all). This new feature will be available on both mobile and desktop, as well as in Androids WebView.