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UK regulator blasts child-focused in-app purchases in report

updated 07:02 pm EDT, Thu September 26, 2013

Office of Fair Trading releases draft principles for app developers

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), a regulator in the United Kingdom, has asked app developers not to create products for children that heavily encourages in-app purchases. The report, stemming from an investigation that commenced in April, lists eight principles that developers should follow to avoid pressuring younger users into making such purchases.

The "Children's Online Games" report sees the OFT recommending that in-game payments should not be authorized or taken unless the owner of the payment account being used has given permission. It also advises that some of the 38 games investigated included "potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices to which children may be particularly susceptible," such as suggesting to the player that they would be "letting other players or characters down" if they did not make specific in-app purchases.

The OFT also pointed out a "general lack of transparent, accurate and clear upfront information" for costs and other aspects relating to purchases, "blurring the distinction between spending in-game currency and real money," and instances where children are being "incited through in-game statements or images to make a purchase, or persuade others to make a purchase."

While the report contains a draft of the principles, the OFT is accepting comments until late November. A finalized version of the principles is expected to be published in late January next year, with adoption expected by April 1st 2014. After that date, "enforcement action" may be taken against developers for potential breaches of consumer protection law.

Cavendish Elithorn, OFT executive director, advised that the app industry "needs to ensure it is treating consumers fairly and that children are protected," continuing "These principles provide a clear benchmark for how games makers should be operating. Once they are finalized, we will expect the industry to follow them, or risk enforcement action."

The OFT will be sharing the principles with its "enforcement partners" elsewhere in the world, with a view to creating some common international standards.

by MacNN Staff



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