Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store misleading children?

Apple App Store and Google Play Store are particularly good in offering all kinds of in-app purchases, but now regulators are stepping in in order to ensure these apps do not put children under pressure making them spend money on these digital knick-knacks. Therefore, according to BBC, The U.K.’s Office of Fair Trading is beginning an investigation into the practices underpinning in-app purchases in games targeting children.

The investigations appear because, in the past months, an alarming number of reports have shown children amassing substantial bills making unsupervised purchases on their parents’ mobile devices. For instance, there has been one boy in Belfast who spent £980 playing “Simpsons” on his parents’ iPad. Another boy who was only five years old, charged £1,700 to his parents, all while playing one game. The application store responded by offering refunds to the children’s parents.

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The Office of Fair Trading investigation is planning to analyze whether these games are misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair. Not only this, but UK regulators will also consider whether the full cost of some of these games is made clear when they are downloaded or accessed. It appears that the “freemium” model — in which developers give their games away in an app store, only to provide the option to purchase more in-app content later — has become immensely popular in the App Store and other platforms’ app repositories.

In addition to these investigations, it seems that regulators across the US and Europe begin looking more closely at the infrastructure of the evolving mobile economy.

In accordance to the statement of the OFT Senior Director for Goods and Consumer, Cavendish Elithorn, the OFT is not seeking to ban in-game purchases, but the games industry must ensure it is complying with the relevant regulations so that children are protected. In addition, he asserted that OFT hopes to resolve all the problems that might be found without taking the court route. However, Apple, as well as Android developers will automatically be impacted by any steps regulators may take to control the manner in which in-app purchases are offered.

Apple had a similar problem in the 2011, when it was involved in a class action lawsuit because the iPad maker does not do enough to ensure that children cannot rack up high in-app bills. The company recently extended a settlement offer, including refunds for excessive charges.

In order to lessen the incidence of unauthorized excessive in-app purchases, Apple has added a warning to the pages of apps that feature the option of in-app purchase.

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