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UK government investigates in-app purchases in games

updated 06:44 am EDT, Fri April 12, 2013

High bills generated by children using freemium games under scrutiny

A United Kingdom government department has launched an investigation into in-app purchases aimed at children. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is attempting to find out if the methods used by developers to encourage children into performing the purchases are "misleading, commercially aggressive, or otherwise unfair."

The OFT has requested for comments from parents that have seen instances where apps aggressively pressure for micropayments. "We are concerned that children and their parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase when they are playing games they thought were free, but which can actually run up substantial costs," said OFT senior director for goods and consumer Cavendish Elithorn to the BBC.

Under the Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trading) Regulations 2008, it is unlawful for a game or product to include "direct exhortations" to children, namely strongly encouraging children to either make the purchase, do something that will force the purchase, or persuading adults to make the purchase on their behalf.

Despite the investigation, the OFT is not looking to banning in-game purchases, but asks the games industry to make sure it complies with current regulations. "We are speaking to the industry and will take enforcement action if necessary," added Elithorn.

In February, Apple was pressured by the UK media into giving a "full refund" to a family, after their five-year-old son purchased over $2,500 of in-app items from a free iPad game, during a 15-minute window after the father had keyed in his password to download the game in the first place. The next month, a British policeman reported his 13-year-old son for fraud after spending $5,700 on in-game content for the iPad.

Apple recently added age recommendations to individual apps, and previously included a warning for products with in-app purchases on the desktop version of the App Store.

By Electronista Staff


  1. Grendelmon

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 12-26-07


    The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is attempting to find out if the methods used by developers to encourage children into performing the purchases are "misleading, commercially aggressive, or otherwise unfair."

    I'll save you the trouble and answer that for you: YES.

  1. aristotles

    Grizzled Veteran

    Joined: 07-16-04

    Parents must accept blame

    Enough with these nanny states. Parents need to take responsibility for the actions of their children. If the parents are unwilling to "pay" then they should pay in some other way like "jail time". That is the only way for them to "learn" that they have a responsibility to society and their children.

    Stop blaming corporations for your piss poor parenting skills.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    I agree, but

    I also think there should be something done to stop the predatory pricing of IAPs in these games aimed clearly at children. There should, for example be a clear rule that IAPs in apps graded to certain age groups not exceed let's say $20, that you can't buy more than (x) per day, and that IAPs must not be required to complete the game. Reasonable restrictions Apple could implement tomorrow if they wanted.

    Parents who let the iPad become the babysitter get what they deserve, I think, but while I think they are 90 percent responsible for the problems, I'd still say predatory IAPs by developers are 10 percent culpable.

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