FTC to Look Into Free-to-Play

The Federal Trade Commission revealed on Tuesday that it plans to look into "free to play" after several politicians complained about thousands of dollars in transactions initiated unknowingly by young children. The investigation is the result of a letter sent to the agency by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) complaining about children buying virtual items without their parents’ consent (hint: it involves Smurf berries).

FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz responded to Markey that the practice of in-app purchases in iPhone and iPad games "raised concerns" that consumers may not understand the full ramifications of the charges they might face.

"We fully share your concern that consumers, particularly children, are unlikely to understand the ramifications of these types of purchases," Leibowitz wrote. "Let me assure you we will look closely at the current industry practice with respect to the marketing and delivery of these types of applications."

An FTC spokesperson confirmed the letter, but would not comment further. Apple did not respond to the report.

“After the Washington Post first broke this story earlier this month, I sent the Federal Trade Commission a letter calling on the agency to investigate the issue of ‘in-app’ purchases and provide additional information about the promotion and delivery of these applications to consumers, especially with respect to children," Markey said in a statement. "What may appear in these games to be virtual coins and prizes to children result in very real costs to parents. I am pleased that the FTC has responded, and as the use of mobile apps continues to increase, I will continue to actively monitor developments in this important area."

Source: Washington Post

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  1. 0
    JoshuaOrrizonte says:

    AFAIK, it’s not the device itself that stores the credit card information: it’s the Apple iTunes/App store. You need to have an iTunes account to download ANYTHING to an iDevice.

    I have an iPod touch, not an iPhone, but there is a setting on the iPod touch that will completely prevent in-app purchases. It’s not hard to find, either. You can also sign out of the store at any time (meaning you have to put the password in again to make any in-app purchases or download an app) or you can just disable downloading altogether.

    (This is all based on my experience with the iPod Touch; I can’t imagine that it’s a whole lot different on other iDevices. It’d be pretty foolish to make the setups all that different, imo.)

  2. 0
    Bigman-K says:

    The nanny-state gets bigger and bigger. Children get more infantiled and babied. There is a reason I consider myself a libertarian now even if I disagree strongly with many of their policies. Society is Fucked.

    "No law means no law" – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the First Amendment

  3. 0
    Neeneko says:

    I don’t know, I think this might be a legit case of deceptive sales practices.

    It is similiar to cases we used to see about cell phone (or landline) companies charging accounts for calling numbers that we not immediatly obvious as having a fee associated with them.  Dialing a 1-900 number you know you will see something on your phone bill, call a 1-800 or 1-215 and you would not expect to, yet for a while you could bind payment to any number.  Cell phones have chargebacks on SMS numbers, of where there is no way to easily tell ahead of time if it will end up on your bill… both of these have been investigated but phone companies were powerful enough to keep getting away with it.

    Here, you have a game that has automatic access to your phone account, and it might not be obvious to an adult that hitting a brightly coloured button on the screen will automaticly charge to thier account or saved CC information.

  4. 0
    Craig R. says:

    That is what I would like to know.

    As much of a concern as it is to get charges to one’s credit card, are you forced to store your credit card? Can you remove it and to a ‘charge as you go’ as many/most websites allow?

    It seems like it really should have been pretty easy to keep kids from racking up these charges by not having a credit card anywhere near the game.

  5. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    How exactly does this work?  Do you just click "Buy Smurfberry" and it charges your account?  At what point do you enter credit card information?


    Andrew Eisen

  6. 0
    josh111888 says:

    Is the government actively trying to make children stupid?  By the time a kid is 13 (the age most on line anything reccomends before young users are left alone), he should understand what it means to buy something.   

  7. 0
    Dinasis says:

    Governments trying to shut down or limit access to online games. Governments trying to control in-game transactions. It’s all only a matter of time, I suppose. Personally, I don’t think that in-game transactions made directly in real-world cash should be made easily and/or seemlessly. In comparison, something like Nexon’s NX, AeriaGames points, or Microsoft’s MSP aren’t really all that bad since (unless your credit card is attached to your account/console) you have to buy the points separately.

    A case where easier isn’t necessarily better.



  8. 0
    Neeneko says:

    So.. basically we have the old 1-900 argument going on again.   Well, I am sure the right person will get slushed and things will continue as they have been, just like cell phone charges.

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