UK Investigating Legality of In-App Purchases

The UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is launching an investigation to determine whether apps targeting children are in violation of consumer protection laws. Game apps for children often have in-app purchases, and children are easy targets to the monetizing scheme.

The OFT investigation is exploring whether these games are misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair. In particular, the OFT is looking into whether these games include ‘direct exhortations’ to children — a strong encouragement to make a purchase, or to do something that will necessitate making a purchase, or to persuade their parents or other adults to make a purchase for them. This is unlawful under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

The investigation is expected to take 6 months wherein OFT officials are expected to interview game makers, start-up leaders, and even parents – like Sharon Kitchens whose son spent $2500 in in-app purchases within 10 minutes without adult supervision. The OFT is specific in expressing its desire to allow in-app purchases to remain legal, but will seek relevant protective measures to ensure that consumers are aware of the implications of playing apps with hidden expenses. It is likely that the UK will require app stores and apps to have better disclaimers.