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UK government investigates in-app purchases in iOS, Android games

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
In-app purchases are a popular means for developers to generate revenue off games and apps in Google Play Store and Apple's App Store, but now a governmental department in the U.K. is looking into whether developers are misleading children into making these payments.

in-app
An in-app content purchasing screen.


The U.K.'s Office of Fair Trading is launching an investigation into the practices underpinning in-app purchases in games targeting children, according to the BBC. The office is requesting input from parents that have seen games aggressively pushing in-game purchases and putting undue pressure on children.

"We are concerned that children and their parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase," said Cavendish Elithorn, senior director for goods and consumer at OFT, "when they are playing games they thought were free."

The OFT isn't looking to ban in-game purchases, according to Elithorn. Instead, the office hopes to ensure that game makers are following the relevant laws.

In-app purchases have made headlines in recent months, as a number of reports have emerged of children amassing considerable bills making unsupervised purchases on their parents' mobile devices. One boy in Belfast piled up ?980 in in-game donuts on his parents' iPad playing a "Simpsons" game. Prior to that, a British five-year-old charged ?1,700 to his parents, all while playing one game. The parents of the two boys received refunds.

The "freemium" model ? in which developers give their games away in an app store, only to offer the option to buy additional in-app content later ? has become immensely popular in the App Store and other platforms' app repositories. In the App Store, in-app purchases account for 71 percent of all iPhone app revenue, illustrating the effectiveness of getting one's apps into the hands of users before asking them to pay for it.

Apple was hit with a class action suit by plaintiffs alleging that the iPad maker doesn't do enough to ensure that children can't rack up large in-app bills. The company recently extended a settlement offer, including refunds for excessive charges.

Looking to head off controversy over the purchases, Apple has added a warning to the pages of apps that feature in-app purchase capability.
post #2 of 17
"We are concerned that children and their parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase," said Cavendish Elithorn

 

It's called willpower, fool. Yes, developers can be detestable by putting "buy!" buttons in high traffic areas of the screen, but that's THEIR RIGHT TO DO IT.

post #3 of 17

If you own a piece of technology, you should learn how to use it AND secure it.  If the parent turned off In App Purchases and the device still allowed it, then there is a case.  Now with it making the news...yet again...people should take some personal responsibility and lock down the devices.
 

post #4 of 17

developers should sue parents for legal fees.

post #5 of 17

Apple could ban the use of IAP in kid's apps if they wanted. But really I think parents should just give kids their own iTunes account with no credit card attached.

post #6 of 17

Dear parents,

Take ten seconds out of your life to familiarize yourself with what your child is about to play and slap a password on your tablet/phone before you hand it to your child.

 

P.S.

Stop being morons.

post #7 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by mac_dog View Post

developers should sue parents for legal fees.

 

Right, because developers only had wholesome intentions when they put cute looking $99 purchase options into games used by preschoolers.

 

1oyvey.gif

post #8 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by KDarling View Post

 

Right, because developers only had wholesome intentions when they put cute looking $99 purchase options into games used by preschoolers.

 

1oyvey.gif

 

I dunno, why don't you ask on an Android developer forum?

 

Next on the ban list, prize offering vending machines in shopping centres, fairground booths and fundraising fetes.

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post #9 of 17
Not good for corporate profits when you are damned if you do, damned if you don't. Educating users beyond ignorance (moron is the blaming definition) will destroy maybe 90% + of that 71% of profits. So I'm quite lost as to how Apple can keep em all ignorant whilst being seen to care.
post #10 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by aBeliefSystem View Post

Not good for corporate profits when you are damned if you do, damned if you don't. Educating users beyond ignorance (moron is the blaming definition) will destroy maybe 90% + of that 71% of profits. So I'm quite lost as to how Apple can keep em all ignorant whilst being seen to care.

 

There are plenty of people who use these things responsibly.

 

Responsibly being the key word in that they take responsibility for their own actions.

 

F*ck nanny states.

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post #11 of 17
Only the right knowledge can cure ignorance. Litigations will not help; it only causes higher price for consumers.

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post #12 of 17
Depends which consumers you mean, savvy ones like us, or the minority supplying a majority of profits.
post #13 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by hill60 View Post

There are plenty of people who use these things responsibly.

 

Responsibly being the key word in that they take responsibility for their own actions.

 

The UK isn't investigating the user interface or even the original iOS way of leaving purchases available without a password for the first fifteen minutes (which Apple usually refunded, but was an unnecessary hassle for users).

 

The UK is investigating possible violation of consumer protection laws related to children.  

 

For example, is it valid to offer $100 instant purchases to a child who only understands that they want to add something pretty to a virtual world.

 

Quote:
F*ck nanny states.

 

What about nanny companies?   Apple decides what to allow and what to censor in their App Store.

post #14 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by KDarling View Post

The UK is investigating possible violation of consumer protection laws related to children.  

For example, is it valid to offer $100 instant purchases to a child who only understands that they want to add something pretty to a virtual world.

I think Apple could put a cap on the total in-app purchasing in a given time. I don't see why anyone would be voluntarily spending more than $60 in a month in a single app. If there was a requirement for a large purchase, it could have an email verification or something. Once they hit that cap, they would be blocked from more purchases for that app. In-app purchasing should be disabled by default in the OS too (can't recall if it is) and require the user to go into settings to turn it on and set a pass-code. The passcode can be a pin code, which can have a reset mechanism via iTunes or something if they forget it. This is another case where a fingerprint scanner helps because it would require the account owner's fingerprint to authorise the purchase.
Quote:
Originally Posted by KDarling View Post

Quote:
F*ck nanny states.

What about nanny companies?   Apple decides what to allow and what to censor in their App Store.

Exactly. All companies are censoring content too and rightly so:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2263096/Children-run-huge-mobile-bills-fake-Angry-Birds-game-cost-15-time-complaints-apps-soar-300.html

"A spokesman for PhonepayPlus said: ‘In one case, children as young as 11 years old downloaded free versions of popular games from the Android app store such as Angry Birds, Assassin’s Creed and Cut the Rope.

‘These fake apps charged £15 to the user’s phone bill every time the app was opened without the user’s knowledge.’"

If Google didn't censor content in their store, anyone could publish fake apps that don't even ask before charging you money. Google censors search links that violate copyright etc. Censorship is a necessary evil and while it seems like it would conflict with openness and freedom, it still leaves us with varying degrees of openness and freedom. Like I say, there's always a balance between the extremes and different companies find different compromises and get different quality results.

Governments can enforce a policy that makes providers warn consumers that they are being charged excessively so they can stop it if they choose. It's not about preventing consumers' ability to purchase so much as it is giving consumers control over their spending. The word 'nanny' is often used to describe a negative context but a nanny would prevent a kid from eating worms and that's a good thing.
post #15 of 17
Britain's regulator tries to help enterprise. So they have avoided forcing networks to switch off the $5 per minute phone numbers by default, despite 99% of the public as likely as not happier with it that way. Again its passwords, with the child clicking yes to "Services that cost you money".
post #16 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by KDarling View Post

Right, because developers only had wholesome intentions when they put cute looking $99 purchase options into games used by preschoolers.

Interesting that you said 'used by' and not 'designed for'. Calls to mind little 4-5 year old Danny who racked up that £1500 or so pounds playing unsupervised on an iPad with a credit card linked to the iTunes account and no parental restrictions turned on because apparently his parents missed the repeated articles in the UK about this sort of thing. He is one of the kids along with the son of Mr 'I'm going to have my kid arrested for credit card fraud cause I'm the idiot that gave him the password and didn't pay attention for 3 months to what he was doing' that probably triggered this whole investigation.

What game did Danny ask for Daddy to download, and Daddy did cause it was free. Zombies vs Ninja, which is rated 9+, not 4+. ie, USED BY the child, but not written for his age. The developer didn't write it for kids Danny's age so should they be held accountable because Daddy didn't do his research and say no because it was age appropriate. Mildly ironic twist is that at least one article mentions that the parents run a children's entertainment company so age appropriateness should be somethng they are aware of.

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post #17 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by charlituna View Post

What game did Danny ask for Daddy to download, and Daddy did cause it was free. Zombies vs Ninja, which is rated 9+, not 4+. ie, USED BY the child, but not written for his age.

 

You have a point about use vs design.  However...

 

Check out the picture heading up this article.  That screenshot is from TapFish... rated 4+.

 

It's difficult to defend the idea of offering a four year old some virtual fish for $100.


Edited by KDarling - 4/23/13 at 3:54am
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