Office of Fair Trading says games should not encourage in-app purchases by children

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is calling on the games industry to avoid pressuring children into making in-app purchases in games and potentially running up large bills. Back in April, an investigation began into the ways in which children are pressured into making in-app purchases. 38 web and app-based games thought to appeal to children were looked at, and the results of the investigation are available in the Children's Online Games report.

The OFT aimed to determine whether the way in-app purchases were presented could be considered "misleading, aggressive or otherwise unfair". As a result of the investigation, the OFT has drawn up a set of eight proposed principles that apps and games should follow. The principles include clearly and prominently informing app users about the potential for costs to be incurred through the app. It is suggested that users should be able to fully understand the current and future costs associated with any app they download.

The proposed principles also suggest that app developers should make a clear distinction between free and paid-for content. There are concerns that the wording of links to premium content is such that costs are not made clear. A clear distinction should also be made between real-world payment with money and in-game purchases with virtual money, the OFT suggests. Principle six states that games should not employ practices that are "aggressive" or "have the potential to exploit a child’s inherent inexperience, vulnerability or credulity".

The final principle states that payments should not be taken unless authorized by the payment account holder. This would mean that a child using their parents' phone or tablet should not be able to make purchases without the parent being aware of it. The OFT suggests that a password be entered every time a purchase is made, and that account holder consent should not be "assumed" through the use of an opt-out system or any other means.

To help parents who are concerned that their children might rack up hefty in-app charges, the OFT has put together a series of video guides that demonstrate how to disable or password-protect in-app purchases. There are guides for BlackBerry, Android, iOS 6 and 7, and Windows Phone, as well as details of how to disable roaming before heading off on a trip abroad.

Feedback on the proposals can be left until 21 November 2013.

Image Credit: Yarkovoy / Shutterstock

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