Watchdogs have set out new rules for stopping games from tricking kids into racking up huge bills. The Office of Fair Trading has set out eight guidelines governing in-app purchases -- with fines for anyone failing to live up to the rules.
One new guideline is that games and apps makers must make sure the bill-payer is giving their informed consent to a 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 iPhone or iPad, the password doesn't have to be entered again to approve further purchases for another fifteen minutes, allowing kids to potentially rack up expensive in-app purchases.
In-app purchases in freemium games are where many developers make their money. The game itself is free, but by spending extra within the game -- sometimes up to £70, as with a mountain of gems in a My Little Pony game -- 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."
The OFT looked into in-app purchases this year after 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 and the Somerset family that faced a £4,000 bill from various games.
Research suggests pesky 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 five there's a ticking time bomb as we breed a generation of misguided in-app purchasers, buying virtual sweets with all the restraint of, well, a kid in a sweet shop.
Have you ever had a shocking bill? Whose responsibility is it to stop this kind of problem: the parents, the games-makers, or Apple? Or is this another example of the stuff we should be educating our kids about in the digital age? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or rack up a huge bill on our Facebook page.