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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: Question
By FITCamaro on 2/10/2011 12:35:44 PM , Rating: 1
No one is saying the prices aren't absurd, but the fact is, they have the right to charge whatever they want for a product. And if you don't trust that your child can make a proper decision in whether a cost is absurd, then don't give them the means to make the decision in the first place.

As far as passwords being too easy, that's the fault of the parent. I'm assuming that the password is a PIN. Well don't use the same PIN as your ATM, phone number, birthday, etc.


RE: Question
By omnicronx on 2/10/2011 12:44:08 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
No one is saying the prices aren't absurd, but the fact is, they have the right to charge whatever they want for a product.
I disagree, the Apple appstore is a walled garden not the free market. Clearly they do not have the right to sell their products at whatever price they want, as Apple has rejected apps for this very reason in the past. If you don't like it, they are free to sell their products for whatever price they want elsewhere.

This is one of the few times where Apple's draconian policies can actually benefit its users.


RE: Question
By theapparition on 2/11/2011 8:55:37 AM , Rating: 2
Or this could be completely avoided if Apple gave users the ability to access thier online content without a CC number on file. Imagine that!

On setting up my wife's iPod, iTunes demanded a CC number or you couldn't even browse thier catalog! Imagine if every time you walked into Walmart, someone stopped you and demanded to see a valid CC or cash. You wouldn't stand for that. Why should you in a virtual world. That's only one of the reasons that I don't buy items in iTunes (the other is we don't use it anymore, Media Monkey FTW!).

Someone stealing your account now has access to your store, CC included. Seems like a very simple fix, one so simple it takes a company as stubborn as Apple not to implement.


RE: Question
By MrTeal on 2/10/2011 12:56:02 PM , Rating: 2
There are many areas where specific laws are made in order to protect children. In many jurisdictions, even advertising to children is prohibited. Many products are banned, or have restrictions on how they're made for safety reasons. You can't just make a crappy crib that is dangerous and claim that parents don't have to buy it if they don't want to.

The problem with this is going to be how it's implemented. In Canada, it's illegal to sell a crib that was made after Sept 1986. They made changes to improve safety standards, but were stuck on how to judge the safety of older cribs. Their solution was to just ban selling any older crib, regardless of how well built or safe it is. Government intervention at work. I have a feeling anything the FTC does here would be with noble intentions but either ineffective or so broad and crushing that it ends up killing DLC altogether.


RE: Question
By bah12 on 2/10/2011 1:02:31 PM , Rating: 2
This isn't to protect children it is to protect stupid parents. Anyone playing smurville that can guess your password deserves to have it.


RE: Question
By bah12 on 2/10/2011 1:01:26 PM , Rating: 2
IIRC most in game purchase are through the Apple store, and thus require Apple authentication. So it is even better than a PIN, if you are too stupid as a parent to select a password your sub 10year can guess, then pay up fool.

My 7 and 8 year old both have an iPod touch, but I control the spending. Actually it has turned into a wonderful parentiing tool we have a 3 strikes board that if clear on Saturday they can each pick an <$5 app/song (including free). I don't give my kids allowances so this has been the best thing ever. Usually costs me no more than $1-2 per kid per week. LOL wait till they get old enough to equate that to a really crappy allowance :)


“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads














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