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Watchdog sets out new rules on kids and in-app purchases

Watchdogs have set out new rules for stopping in-app purchases from tricking kids into racking up huge bills.

Watchdogs have set out new rules for stopping games from tricking kids into racking up huge bills. The Office of Fair Trading has set out eight guidelines governing in-app purchases -- with fines for anyone failing to live up to the rules.

One new guideline is that games and apps makers must make sure the bill-payer is giving their informed consent to a purchase, although how that should be done is left up to the industry. 

Currently, when a parent or account holder downloads a game or authorises a purchase on an iPhone or iPad, the password doesn't have to be entered again to approve further purchases for another fifteen minutes, allowing kids to potentially rack up expensive in-app purchases.  

In-app purchases in freemium games are where many developers make their money. The game itself is free, but by spending extra within the game -- sometimes up to £70, as with a mountain of gems in a My Little Pony game -- you can upgrade with extras such as treats, power-ups or new levels. The OFT says such offers exploit a child's "inexperience, vulnerability and credulity."

Bill shock 

The OFT looked into in-app purchases this year after high-profile cases such as the Somerset policeman forced to shop his own son over a shock £3,700 iPad game bill.

Apple claims it's the parents' responsibility to avoid huge bills by keeping a closer eye on iPad-wielding kids, claiming there are already safeguards in place to prevent this kind of nonsense.

Apple has however refunded ridiculous bills like the Bristol family hit with a £1,700 Zombies vs Ninjas bill and the Somerset family that faced a £4,000 bill from various games.

Research suggests pesky eight-year-olds are the worst for running up shock in-app charges. With reports of kids getting their first phone at seven or even five there's a ticking time bomb as we breed a generation of misguided in-app purchasers, buying virtual sweets with all the restraint of, well, a kid in a sweet shop.

Measures for protecting the children include Windows Phone's Kids Corner, a safe phone for youngsters and the family-only social network Huglr

Have you ever had a shocking bill? Whose responsibility is it to stop this kind of problem: the parents, the games-makers, or Apple? Or is this another example of the stuff we should be educating our kids about in the digital age? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or rack up a huge bill on our Facebook page.