Trading Watchdog Warns Over Misleading and Aggressive In-App Purchases

By Gary Cutlack on at

The Office of Fair Trading has stepped into the debate around real-money in-app purchases in games aimed at children, saying more needs to be done to explain future costs and micro-payments upfront and before players install that amazing "free" game.

The watchdog say the issues hinge around having the "informed consent" of the bill payer, meaning that just because the parent has handed a child a phone and a password, it shouldn't necessarily follow that mum and dad are agreeing blindly to all future in-game purchases, especially if they're not well explained prior to download.

The OFT cites an example of a game this misleads kids and parents into thinking it's free by using this charming horsey example:

"A game based on collecting horses is advertised in an app store for free. Screenshots from the game show the stables full with horses. Having downloaded the game, the consumer may access the stables but he/she discovers that horses must be paid for with real money and so has been misled by the use of ‘free’."

Which sounds exactly like the way the vast majority of miserable free-to-play mobile games work these days. The OFT is after opinions on how this particular deadly minefield may be better policed, which can be offered here. [OFT via BBC]

Image credit: Child with phone from Shutterstock