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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.



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RE: Come on..
By kattanna on 2/10/2011 11:42:03 AM , Rating: 2
or how about if you can not trust your child with such an item, then dont give it to them. there are many phones on the market that cannot use apps like this.


RE: Come on..
By omnicronx on 2/10/2011 12:09:07 PM , Rating: 2
I'm just talking about in general, not just for kids games.
(while I would tend to agree, if you can't trust your child, don't give it to them)

That said, I would not be surprirsed if this becomes a big an issue, and not just for Apple but for other platforms introducing in app purchases aswell.

Heck think of the hacker schemes, downloading a bunch of apps may cause some red flags, taking over a phone making a bunch of in app purchases may not.

This clearly needs to be dealt with, or its going to become a problem. There is absolutely no reason why they should be charging these prices. I'm sure Apple does not allow frivolous pricing for Apps in general on their app store, why should the same standard not be applied to in app purchases?


RE: Come on..
By omnicronx on 2/10/2011 12:11:34 PM , Rating: 2
Taking this further, the way I see it, if you have a walled garden and you have claimed in the past half the reason is to protect users, don't you think its a bit of conflict of interest to not look into this? Especially when they are receiving a 30% cut?


RE: Come on..
By FITCamaro on 2/10/2011 12:18:03 PM , Rating: 2
I think its a little absurd to expect parents to be responsible for their children's actions.


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