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Smurfs' Village  (Source: whattheyplay.com)

Tap Zoo  (Source: a1.phobos.apple.com)
Game developers like Capcom Interactive and Pocket Gems have been advertising free children's games on iTunes, then charge high prices for in-app items without clearly warning parents of such charges

Developers of free children's games on Apple's iPhone have been charging users by placing price tags on items found throughout the games, but these in-app price tags have not been made clear to those purchasing these games, and Democratic lawmakers are getting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) involved. 

On Tuesday, Rep. Edward J. Markey (Mass.) along with Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) submitted letters to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz asking for thorough inspection of free children's games by companies such as Pocket Gems and Capcom Interactive.  

Apple iPhone games such as Tap Zoo by Pocket Gems and the Smurfs' Village by Capcom Interactive have been labeled as free children's games, but what parents may not know upon choosing these apps is that items within the games, such as barrels of Smurfberries in the Smurfs' Village game, can cost up to $99 if a child selects them. The end result is bill shock when the charges arrive.  

While these purchases cannot be made without a password, parents argue that it has become too easy for children to figure it out and that safeguards are not strong enough to stop them from purchasing the items found in these games. 

In one particular case, a Rockville family was charged $1,400 from Capcom Interactive as well as Apple, who receives 30 percent of the tab. The Democratic lawmakers see instances like this as deceptive practices on both Apple and the game developers' parts. Markey argued that parents download applications clearly labeled as free games made suitable for children, and have no reason to expect that in-app costs such as a $19 bucket of snowflakes would be apart of their child's gaming experience. 

"Companies shouldn't be able to use smurfs and snowflakes and zoos as online ATM's, pulling money from the pockets of unsuspecting parents," said Markey. "The use of mobile apps will continue to escalate, which is why it is critical that more is done now to examine these practices. I will continue to closely monitor this issue and look forward to the FTC's response."

Capcom Interactive and Pocket Gems have both placed warnings on their games in the iTunes store regarding the additional in-app charges a user may face, but there is still some children-related software packaging left unclear. 

"The bigger question of business marketing practices moving forward is that policy doesn't have time to stay up, so we need to ensure there are safeguards across all platforms so kids are not exploited," said Kathryn Montgomery, a professor of communications at American University and author of "Generation Digital," who has urged the need for reforms to the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.





"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes



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