Watchdogs have begun to set out new rules for disallowing games from tricking kids into racking up huge bills via in app purchases. The Office of Fair Trading has set out eight guidelines governing in-app purchases and the punishment for breaking these guidelines is by way of fines for anyone failing to live up to the rules.

In App Purchases

One such new guideline is that games and apps makers must make sure the bill-payer is giving their informed consent to a specific purchase, although how that should be done is left up to the industry. Currently, when a parent or account holder downloads a game or authorises a purchase on an iPad/iPhone, the password does not have to be entered another time to approve further purchases for another fifteen minutes, allowing  the user to possibly rack up expensive in-app purchases.

In-app purchases in free games are where many application developers make money. The game itself is free, but by spending extra within the game, sometimes upwards of £70, you can upgrade with extras such as treats, power-ups or new levels. The OFT says such offers exploit a child’s “inexperience, vulnerability and credulity.”  Research suggests eight-year-olds are the worst for running up shock in-app charges. With reports of kids getting their first phone at seven or even as young as five (what are the parents thinking?) there is now a generation of kids buying virtual sweets, with costly virtual dental bills!  The OFT has looked into in-app purchases this year after some high-profile cases such as the Somerset policeman forced to shop his own son over a shock £3,700 iPad game bill.

Apple claims it’s the parents’ responsibility to avoid huge bills by keeping a closer eye on iPad-wielding kids, claiming there are already safeguards in place to prevent this kind of nonsense.  Apple has however refunded ridiculous bills like the Bristol family hit with a £1,700 Zombies vs Ninjas bill.  Measures for protecting our children include Windows Phone’s Kids Corner, hailed as a safe phone for youngsters and the family-only social network Huglr. As usual, please feel free to make any sensible comments or suggestions.

[Image via itpro]