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UK fair trade body threatens 'enforcement action' over in-app purchases

The Office of Fair Trading has concluded its in-app purchase investigation, stating that some games are utilizing "potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices to which children may be particularly susceptible."
Earlier this year The Office of Fair Trading, a government department in the UK focused on consumer protection, decided to investigate whether free-to-play games aimed at children were unfairly pressuring kids into buying additional content or virtual currency. Now the group has concluded its investigation, stating that some games are utilizing "potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices to which children may be particularly susceptible." OFT says that there are numerous areas of concern with regards to in-app purchases in games, including a general lack of transparency when it comes to information regarding the available purchases, and the blurred distinction between in-game currency and real money. The group also says that children are being encouraged to make purchases through aggressive means. For example, it found some games imply that if the child does not pay money, they would be letting the character on the screen down in some way. With all this in mind, OFT says that these commercial practices "are likely to breach consumer protection law and that companies in the market need to implement changes to ensure full compliance with their legal obligations." As a result, OFT has drafted up eight principle points that it says clarify how developers should be interpreting the law. "Once they are finalized, we will expect the industry to follow them, or risk enforcement action," it added. The full report in much more detail, along with the eight principles and examples of aggressive in-app purchase situations, can be found on the OFT website [PDF].

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