Are In-App Purchases Misleading Children? The UK Government Thinks So

April 12, 2013 - 3 minutes read

in-app purchase

The freemium model has been adopted by mobile developers as the most effective route to riches on the app store. Freemium model apps enable customers to download an app for free and then buy upgrades or virtual goods through an in-app purchase. With the explosive adoption of mobile technology by consumers and surging popularity of Apple and Android’s app store marketplaces, government entities worldwide are starting to take notice.

According to an article published by the BBC, the UK Government is opening an investigation into the in-app purchase practice which some (overprotective mothers) believe may be misleading children into making these purchases. The Office of Fair Trading is on a fact finding mission to find out if the games put undue pressure on children to pay for additional content. The Government organization has asked parents to who have seen firms aggressively pushing in-game content to children to help them gather evidence for the investigation.

“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,” said Cavendish Elithorn, the OFT’s senior director for goods and consumer.

Apple paid out $100 million in compensation in a class action lawsuit in February. The funds were distributed to parents who had children that bought virtual goods and upgrades via in-app purchases on their mobile devices. As a result of the lawsuit there is now an “Offers In-App Purchases” disclaimer on freemium apps in the iTunes App Store.

As a San Diego mobile app developer this investigation is truly concerning as it could interfere in the health and growth prospects of the mobile app ecosystem. Government intrusion into private enterprise under the ruse of protecting children from buying things with their phone threatens the livelihoods of the entire mobile app developer community. This appears to be nothing more than another witch hunt by non-technical Government officials that frankly have nothing better to do than stick their noses where they don’t belong.

Personal responsibility is tantamount when it comes to purchasing anything in this world. The invention of in-app purchases and adoption of the freemium model by developers should be celebrated and not lambasted by lawyers and bureaucrats. Mobile users have a password and a credit card stored on their device and are personally responsible for actions they take. Parents must understand how in-app purchases work on the app store and take note of what apps their children download and what virtual goods they purchase. It’s not rocket science, it’s responsible parenting.

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