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back to article Regulator sniffs around stonking iPhone game bills

UK phone regulator PhonePayPlus has launched an investigation after game-playing iPhone users complained about surprise premium rate call charges. Concerns have focused on a free to download, advertising-supported game called BubbleWrap, developed by Orsome New Zealand and available via Apple's App Store. BubbleWrap comes with …

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Out of Apples Control

"Apples fabled control" has, and cannot have, anything to do with the contents of mobile ads. The issue is with AdMob, who are allowing ads onto their network that not only trick users into dialling premium rate numbers, but that also appear to break their own submission rules.

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Not out of Apple's Control.

Apple may not be responsible for the content but what is not out of Apple's control is how the device reacts to a user touching one of the adverts. Allowing the device to make premium rate phone calls without a warning from the OS is pisspoor.

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Jobs Horns

Complete bollards!

It would appear that Apple have implemented a function in their API which allows third-party software to connect the user to any phone number wthout intervention. To me, that looks like a gaping security hole.

There is advertising software, built into free games that exploits this. That is their business model, however despicable. The fault lies with the temple of Jobs.

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My 4yr old

Loves to play games on my iPhone. Bubblewrap was installed. Now it isn't.

Thanks El Reg!

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Happy

Blame?

Obviously the people adding these premium numbers to the adware are to blame (they are just trying to screw the public, which is what premium rate numbers are for).

But it sounds like Apple should take some responsibility for this too. it should never have removed the "you're about to make a call" warning from the API. I can see that this box could become annoying (esp. in a game) if you keep accidentally hitting something that would initiate a call though, so apple should really add a setting along the likes of :-

1/ Pop up a box and warn that you're going to make a call

2/ Don't pop up a box - just make the call

3/ Disable the API and prevent any calls at all being made via it

That should keep everyone happy (apart from the advertisers of course because most people would select option 3 of course)

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Software Down Grade?

You wrote that the problem arose "following a software update from Apple", now we all known that apple are a pretty arrogant bunch who were unable to secure their web site and had to stop selling itunes gift certificates via their website (should they have asked MS for help?). But calling a serious hole like this new one the result of an 'upgrade' , is like saying added cyanide in a chocolate bar improves the flavour.

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Anonymous Coward

If you can afford to give your kid an iPhone

Then you can afford to pay the bill when they use/abuse it? "Don't gamble what you can't afford to lose" - or am I being a bit harsh?

Maybe Apple itself should take some responsibility here. The application is bought from Apple so they should know what they're selling and it's capability to rip folks off?

If the user had rented the phone on a credit card would they have any recourse through the relevant consumer credit legislation?

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Coat

iPhone is great for retro games....

..and retro security threats, like diallers, too! *boom boom*

Keep your knickers on fanbois, it's just a joke.

Mines the one with the £600 phone bill spewing out the inside pocket.

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FAIL

Deliberate incompetence?

Why the hell would any phone manufacturer REMOVE a warning that some action you were about to take could potentially cost you money?

And then, presumably, NOT TELL ANYONE ? Do they have some kind of revenue share with AdMob? Someone should have a sniff around because if it isn't utter incompetence on apple's behalf then it's conspiracy to defraud.

AdMob obviously have they own issues to sort out too but it looks like the idiocy/fraud begins with the Jobsian High Council.

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Paris Hilton

User fault, IMO

If you give a phone to a kid, expect them to make calls.

I'd say the simplest fix would be for Apple to reinstate a confirmation option before a call is made - ideally this would highlight the fact that it's a charged 0900 call.

As Apple are probably too high and mighty to do this, it would be polite for AdMob to enforce it in their code.

But the customers complaining is a bit rich - they are not being fooled or tricked in any way, the programs and adverts are performing exactly as specified.

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*Sigh*

It's mainly the fault of AdMob (it's their software after all) but Apple have opened themselves up to criticism with the silent change in default behaviour.

I presume (I have no evidence to support this) that Apple received a lot of noise saying "it'd be way better if we didn;t have to continually press OK on confirmation dialogs everytime we press a button" so Apple obliged, wanting to improve the user experience.

Trouble is they didn;t think it through - the correct change would be to add a setting (defaulted to checked) that says "ask for confirmation before allowing apps to dial". That way ppl could choose to disabled confirmation dialogs, but everyone else who didn't have a clue would be nicely protected.

Even after over a decade of such problems from various vendors "default to secure" still isn't being widely adopted :( Any number of horrifically insecure "features" in Win and IE were there to make it easier for the user, but they ended up making their experience a pain when they got pwned. Will ppl ever learn?

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Unhappy

Like Location services

I have turned off location services in my iPhone settings but there are some apps that seem to want to use them and don't seem to check my default settings. For example Shazam, I mean everytime I start this up to tag some music it insists on asking me if it can make use of location services!

I am not a programmer but I would have thought if your app needed location services then take a look at the default setting, if it's off then it's off. OK if you are a GPS or map program then you are probably going to want to use location services so ask and then set YOUR app as an EXCEPTION to the general settings but if all you do is tell me the title of that song that's playing at the moment WTF do you need my location for?

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Flame

Where is the carrier option.

I don't *ever* want to make calls to premium rate numbers. Why can there not simply be a "disable all premium calls" option? Why should I not be able to take care of this risk by prevention rather than cure?

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Boffin

Because thats too ideal

and Apple dont do perfect. they do looks like its perfect.

companies always have to withold something for the next version thats how repeat business works.

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FAIL

Fault ?

Of course this is Apple's fault. They changed the default behaviour of the OS API.

Calls to Premium Rate numbers are largely irrelevant. *ALL* calls are charged, even to 0800 "freephone" numbers (except for a few charities from Orange). At least when you phone an 0800 the network tells you it will be charged (or Vodafone does - don't know about the others)

Any action from any application which results in any charge should have some form of confirmation by default (with an option to disable the warning). The only possible exclusion would be applications explicitly designed to make calls since that is the purpose of a telephone.

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Problem with all AdMob enabled apps

All this focus on one game developer is unfortunate. I've seen the premium dialler in more than just his game. AdMob is 100% to blame for premium numbers appearing in adverts and should take full responsibility for it.

Being able to set privacy settings on a per-app basis would be the best policy for Apple to take. Apps should have access to nothing unless you specifically enable them to do so, which includes being able to dial.

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A good idea

And that's how RIM does it. each app I install on a BB allows me to modify it's permission. Apps that vary from the default (like Google Maps, which requires access to GPS) require the user to verify the variances, and gives the option to change them to a more restrictive (or looser, if so desired) set of permissions.

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This is simply not true!!!!!!!!

This story must all be a lie! Apple have complete control over the iPhone and all the applications written for it and would never allow an application which exhibited this kind of behaviour!

So, as has been asked above, are Apple incompetent or thieves? Either way, they're lying to their customers.

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Anonymous Coward

Can you not get

Premium rate call barring on iPhones?

Is there an app for that?

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Anonymous Coward

Of course there is

But without multi-tasking you can't have it running at the same time

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Coat

Yes...

it's a free ad-sponsered app from AdMob, oh wait.........

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Gotta get their money back somehow...

It seems as though <A Href="http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/11/09/google_to_buy_admob/">Google</A> needs to get their AdMob money back somehow and after being slighted by Apple for their phone related apps, what better way of recouping your investment that letting other companies do it for you? Pick the most popular game that has AdMob installed, insert premium calling link, PROFIT!

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Regulator?

PhonePayPlus is the name of a regulator?! (Try saying it five times quickly, too.) What next? The vice squad being rebranded as SexDrugsWhopperCopper?

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Boffin

Very much AdMob's fault

Check the reference document http://developer.apple.com/iphone/library/featuredarticles/iPhoneURLScheme_Reference/iPhoneURLScheme_Reference.pdf on page 11 - dated 17th June 2009.

"In a native application, opening a URL with the tel scheme initiates dialing without further prompting from the user."

This is not a recent change, but a documented feature since the middle of 2009!

The blame lies entirely on AdMob, who should have verified the critical changes to the SDK to assess the impact it will have on their product, but instead, appear to have been complacent in a deprecated feature of the iPhone, to display a warning regardless of whether it originates in an app or a web page.

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Jobs Horns

@AC - 13:49

Yes, there is an app for that.

You need to ring a premium rate number to get it tho :-)

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ban revenue sharing

Yet another reason to ban premium-rate numbers and "revenue sharing" entirely ... the whole thing is just a scammers' playground.

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Paris Hilton

"despite Apple's fabled control, the unexpected can still happen"

You probably mean _because of_, not despite. These things happen because the Church of Jobs' opaque and secretive control-freakery, not despite it.

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Paris Hilton

Free apps....

I worked out months ago that most free Iphone apps that do not have advertising in them, when they become popular, they always seem to release an update for it.... then wham... AdMob bar at the top.

Where is the Bill Hicks icon, when you need to have a pop at advertising....

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Grenade

09

i thought most providers in the UK block 09 until you ring them up to allow Prem rate numbers (T-mobile little bad as you remove the 0 for the 09 so that can be exploited), no ads should Ever be allowed by apple to dial an prem rate number bubble app should be banned until they fix that and any app that uses that ad service that bubble app is using

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