OFT to investigate in app purchases and the way publishers target kids

The Office of Fair Trading is to investigate in app purchases used in smartphone and web games.

The moves is a result of concerns that some customers – primarily children – are unwittingly spending sizable sums on content in games which, when they are initially downloaded, are presumed to be free.

The OFT has appealed to concerned parents to get in touch. It has also approached a number of games publishers to explain the reasoning behind their payment models.

Apple and Google are understood to be on the OFT’s radar, as well as gaming services such as Facebook and Moshi Monsters.

It follows a number of high-profile stories over the last few months where children have racked up surprise bills on the Apple App Store – such as five-year-old Danny Kitchen who spent over 1,700 on ‘free’ title Zombies vs Ninjas.

"We are concerned that children and their parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase when they are playing games they thought were free, but which can actually run up substantial costs," the OFT’s senior director for goods and consumer Cavendish Elithorn stated.

Essentially, the Oft will decide on whether such games "misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair" when offering IAPs.

OFT officials have added, however, that parental responsibility of course plays a part in the problem. What it must now decide upon is just how big a factor that is.

Its first report is expected in October.

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