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PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch online services face UK investigation

The United Kingdom's Competitions and Markets Authority has opened an investigation into the fairness of refund policies and auto-renewals for PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo online services.

The United Kingdom’s Competitions and Markets Authority has opened an investigation into the fairness of different aspects of online services for PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo systems.

It’s an investigation in its very earliest stages, meaning that the authority is currently calling for responses from the public to gather more information on things like auto-renewing memberships, store refund policies, and each service's terms and conditions.

And, for some of the companies named, the investigation comes shortly after other government bodies have voiced concerns over the legalities of restrictive refund policies and other online services.

The CMA, meanwhile, says that its investigation arose from concerns over whether some of the practices surrounding PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo's online services are strictly legal.

The authority plans to examine if contract terms for each are fair (“do the companies’ terms give them wide discretion to change the quality of the deal, for example, by reducing the number of games included or increasing the price?”), how easy it is to cancel or refund a purchase, and the fairness and transparency of auto-renewing subscriptions.

The authority notes that it is still in the fact-finding stage and that it has "not reached a view as to whether or not the companies have broken consumer protection law" at this point. 

A handful of other regulators across the globe have launched similar investigations in the past, particularly over refund policies deemed to be on the wrong side of consumer protection laws. The German Consumer Protection Authority has previously accused Nintendo of violating the EU’s Consumer Rights Direction by enforcing an “all sales are final” rule on digital eShop purchases and preorders.

Last year, both Nintendo and Sony were named by the Norwegian Consumer Council (alongside Steam and EA Origin) for violating EU consumer protection laws that ensure EU customers can withdraw from a refund or purchase within 14 days as well.

For what it’s worth, Sony has just recently altered PlayStation's refund policies, though the changes only affect customers in the United States. Under the new rules that went live earlier this week, PlayStation users can receive refunds on digital content (including pre-orders) with 14 days of purchase, but only if that content was never downloaded to a system.

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