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back to article Ofcom: Parents, here's how to keep grubby tots from buying Smurfberries

Ofcom has posted video guides to turning off in-app purchasing on all the popular mobile platforms, but ads serving premium-rate numbers continue to proliferate uncontrolled. Users, and regulators - the OFT today launched a probe into whether kids were being pressured into buying in-game goodies - are getting wise to in-app …

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WTF?

Symptom or disease?

Whilst the people coming up with ways to hook children into accidentally/unknowingly clicking on ads are amongst the lowest of the low, and deserve to burn in hell along with lawyers and politicians, surely of equal/greater concern is the parent who gives their latest shiny to their two year old in an attempt to "pacify" them? Not to mention that even from the perspective of a two year old the iPhone/iPad must be completely simplistic and fairly boring - no tactile buttons, no smash-proof surfaces, and once covered in slobber won't even work properly...

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Meh

Re: Symptom or disease?

You are obviously not a parent. Both my son and daughter like playing the odd game, such as Fireman Sam and Angry Birds. 'Symptom or disease' is a sweeping statement, used to describe the use as a pacifier is not correct in the slightest especially when you consider the limited time they may have with the device, such as the time it takes to queue up for a coffee in a shop while they wait at the table.

I always switch to airplane mode before they get the device, yet on occasions I find that the childrens 'game' has tried to access the Internet because somewhere along the line there has been an accidental press of the button.

It is down to parental supervision, but when ad companies target young children in such a way it is wrong. They are taken out of a safe area and an attempt has been made to serve them up ads on a web page and this is embedded in childrens games.

The developers know this without a doubt and could stop it but don't .A simple solution would be to ban in app purchases and diversions to web pages etc on all games and apps targeted at children. The apps could be marked in such a way that they comply with these standards.

The firs developers that do this will make a lot of money.

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Re: Symptom or disease?

Lets look forward to alot less apps out there then.

Due to the total devaluation of the software market by Apple which has been compounded by people who don't even want to pay 69p for an app, the only ways left to make back any of the money put into apps is through getting ads and in app purchases.

It may seem like these people are the scum of the earth to you, but from where i am sitting it is businesses as usual and you have no-one but yourself to blame with the current freeloading view that society has.

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Re: Symptom or disease?

My sister and her husband have been downloading the free Fisher Price baby apps for her iPhone for my niece who turned one in February and she loves them and they've also helped with her development, especially her hand eye co-ordination.

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Paid for apps

Well I used to be happy to pay for apps, but that has changed. When you go into a shop, you get to look at what you want to buy to know if it is any good. Not so with "apps".

I bought a Spanish-English dictionary app. It seemed OK looking at the screen shots, and there were loads of comments that it was great. Except; in Spanish, nouns have gender. The dictionary failed to show this. Also it failed miserably as a dictionary, not actually having the meanings of words, and was more akin the list of words in a spell checker.

Fool me, I then went and bought another one, and found that it had similar problems and missed quite a few common words. Could I get my money back, no! Is it possible to see before you buy? No. Where was Apple's customer service? "So you did actually buy the app?" "In that case I'm sorry, but there is nothing I can do"

Result: No more paid-for apps on the ipod.

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WTF?

Not just kids...

Stuff the entire KID aspect of this. When is it acceptable or desirable, from a customer perspective, for a single press on an advert to phone a premium rate number?

I can't think of one LEGITIMATE use of such a thing, it is a scam, pure and simple, aimed at those either too young to read, or too digitally encumbered to retain control of their fingers.

They should be banned outright. No problem with an advert that leads to a webpage or redirects through to the AppStore to an application, but to dial a premium number is never acceptable.

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Re: Paid for apps

Some apps (on Android and when I last looked) exist in a free demonstration edition that provides a limited service. If it looks good then you buy the fully functioning product. You also may look at users' reviews.

You also may be able to return an app for a refund immediately after purchase. Again when I last looked at Android apps, I think the time allowed was FIFTEEN MINUTES, which to me seems not really enough at all. I thought Apple was more generous, but still not more than a day? Still, as I say, you can try a demo version.

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Re: Paid for apps

> Could I get my money back, no!

> Where was Apple's customer service?

It's in iTunes. Go to the "purchase history" page, find the problematic puchase, and "report a problem".

My experience, as an app developer, is that users do get refunds when they ask Apple for them.

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Re: Not just kids...

Never, that's when it's acceptable for a single click on an advert to call a number, which explains why a confirmation dialog pops up instead of just dialling it.

You can try it yourself, scroll to the bottom of this page on a mobe, tap the 'Advertise with us' link then tap on the phone number.

Is that child safe? Nope, is it useful for adults? Yes.

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h3
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Re: Symptom or disease?

I think less apps would be great as it stands 99.9% are absolute garbage and I cannot find the rest.

The people doing this are the scum of the earth.

People making the apps worth having make money (Presuming they can be found) if this sort of junk stopped then it is likely more worthwhile apps would be better known.)

Palm OS / Symbian enabled to do everything I wanted to do and because the barrier to entry was higher there was normally one or two apps to perform a certain task which made them easier to find.

Not 2 decent ones and 1000 crappy adware ones that barely work.

To be honest nearly everything I would use would likely still be made if it was totally unfeasable for commercial developers to make apps. (Look at Linux / Meego / Webos for example).

Parasites are never wanted.

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@ LarsG Re: You are obviously not a parent.

Yes, because all parents have a smartphone for their two year olds. "Those of a differing opinion must not have children" is an equally sweeping statement, that you don't see the irony is of concern.

The term pacify is entirely appropriate for the concept of giving your phone to your kid to keep them quiet and occupied. The length of time involved doesn't affect the definition of the term.

I concur with the rest of your post though - the devs must be at least partially aware of the issue, the risk of loss of advertisers is (sadly) presumably enough of a deterrent to cause them to turn a blind eye - even the need to enter a password before making a transaction (something I imagine Apple could do at an OS level) would be enough to prevent unwanted purchases...

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How Did We Survive

When I was that age you were lucky if you had a phone, TV was very rare and the radio was salvation.

We survived.

We could entertain ourselves by going shopping ... with ration coupons in hand.. Yes I did from about the age of 5, down to the corner shop, with list, I could touch, Money I could touch and ration coupons, I could touch.

Sorry but why would anyone give a tiny child several hundred pounds of cost (not necessarily worth) electronics to play with?

The term 'get a life' comes to mind.

The crap and otherwise useless mobile I was sent does operate without a SIM card as a kiddie plaything if you are that desperate. The Nokia Asha 300 phone is horribly useless with a SIM card so perhaps it is a toy.

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Re: How Did We Survive

Money? Ration coupons? You were lucky! My parents used to give me a club and a send me out to kill my own food wearing nothing but a bearskin.

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Stop

Re: How Did We Survive

In real terms a mobile phone costs less now than a radio did in the 1940s. What a feckless bunch you were back then letting kids listen to such an expensive piece of electronics.

The world (and technology) moves on. Learn to live with that.

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Re: How Did We Survive

Bearskin, thy where lucky lad, my dad made us go out and kill out own bears with our teeth... etc.

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Re: How Did We Survive

Teeth? Luxury! Why my dad knocked each and every one of my teeth out when I were six and used em in a slingshot to kill a rabbit! I used to have to gum things to death. Teeth...

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Facepalm

Re: How Did We Survive

Club, you were lucky to have a club. We had to gnaw a branch off a tree with our teeth first.

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Pint

Re: How Did We Survive

Hey, just because you had an awful childhood doesn't mean kids these days have to be miserable.

Guess what, me and my kids have a lot of fun playing games and using apps together. It keeps them occupied too sometimes, just like a book or counting license plates did 40 years ago, and some of the apps and games are educational.

Guess you have to be a bitter old man to see the problem, cause I sure dont!

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Pint

Re: How Did We Survive

As a parent I live in a modern age. I have a reasonable job and dont have to worry about scrounging for scrap iron to get a shilling or two for the leccy meter. we dont have to duck behind the sofa when the granada TV man comes round for the telly rent either.

I used to go out on my bike and cycle along the canal for 20miles and back. I wouldnt think twice about going on roads. My kids are not so trusted and the traffic is a fecking nightmare these days. Times change you know? I bet you didnt have to go out tilling the land for your lord either or worry about tithing your chickens for the collector.

I bought the kids a cheap chinapad for £50 on ebay, does the job and no worries about costs. Unfortunately outside of jailbreaking there isnt an apple alternative to this (even second hand alternatives are expensive).

Whilst I am out with the kids and we are waiting for something (perhaps in a long queue or waiting to pick the OH up) I pass my phone to the kids to play on. I suppose when I was a kid I was told to shut up and keep quiet and stood there being bored.

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Childcatcher

Re: How Did We Survive

Money? Shop?

My daughter has to make her own shop (selling notebooks and puppies, and make her own notebooks), and she has to make her own paper money.

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Thumb Down

I'm riled by the lack of pragmatism from parents whose nippers have been caught by the in-app purchase trap. There are a number of things a parent can do to stop this from being possible - like having a decently hard to crack app store password, changing their password every so often, checking their account balance online to make sure no unauthorised activity is going on, or just doing the totally sensible thing of removing your credit card details from a device YOUR CHILD HAS ACCESS TO. I'm all for adding better controls to more granularly restrict certain activities, but you're ultimately undertaking a massive level of risk by giving a device to your child that's linked to your bank account. Wallets are not toys, why should phones be?

"It is down to parental supervision, but when ad companies target young children in such a way it is wrong."

From an ethical perspective I'd agree, but companies have been doing this for decades and the more integrated technology becomes with our lives the more creative extracting money from children's pockets will be, and the further ahead of regulators and authorities the ad boys will be.

Ultimately the price of security is convenience, and vice versa - choose your poison.

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Read the article

Unless I got it completely wrong, some games show ads which, if clicked upon, will call a phone number running at jacked-up prices. Removing your credit card details or having a password on the App Store is useless to stop this from happening.

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FAIL

Re: Read the article

Sticking the phone in flight mode before allowing the anklebiter to play with it will prevent this.

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Re: Read the article

sure as a savvy person that is what most of us would do. Not so for my mum (who we pointed towards the apple store knowing they are simple AND easy to use but can skype and receive emails). She hasnt a clue about adverts, rogue dialers and whatnot. She shouldnt need to either.

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It's a culture thing..

The expectation that everything should be free on the internet means people expect games to be free. What pays the programmers wages? It's what's led to the "freemium" model.

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Re: It's a culture thing..

That and the fact that hobbyist programmers are doing the same thing to app prices as hobbyist crafters have done to hand made goods prices.

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Flame

Re: It's a culture thing..

IMHO it's more of a chicken-or-egg problem. The mere existence of these scamming 'free apps' puts pressure on honest developers to give their work for free, and the only way left for them to be paid for their work is either to go rogue, or at the very least to allow in-game ads, which in turn are often rogue themselves.

I think that the problem is the system itself. Premium numbers shouldn't be accessible without a security code and a signed written contract. And allowing phones to keep your credit card data and use it automatically whenever an app asks for it, is just suicidal.

The solutions would be a mix of legal and technical ones. Several examples follow:

-ISPs and telcos shouldn't allow the user access to premium services unless they have a copy of a written contract between the user and the owner of the premium service.*(note)

- Phones shouldn't allow any transaction involving the user's credit card number nor access to a premium service without asking for a password from the user, every time the phone tries to access one of these services or send the credit card's data.

- Payment to the premium services by the telcos and ISPs should be delayed until the user receives the invoice, plus one month for complaining/contesting it/whatever.

- ... (add your own)

I don't see these solutions being put in place any time soon, thanks to the usual issues: lobbying, pressure from the telcos on the phone makers and generalized ignorance amongst the public.

* Note: Yes, that alone would mean the disappearance of premium rate services. What's there not to like? :-)

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Re: It's a culture thing..

actually an app such as "permission manager" on android would cure this entirely.

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JB
Thumb Up

Re: It's a culture thing..

"-ISPs and telcos shouldn't allow the user access to premium services unless they have a copy of a written contract between the user and the owner of the premium service."

While I totally agree with you, this will never happen: can you see telcos cutting off a source of revenue like that?

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h3
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Re: It's a culture thing..

Not really what led to the freemium model is people making crap games and expecting to make money from them and greed.

People did well enough selling a good game and then if it was a hit selling an expansion or two.

Other people made shareware if they were not well known and they did alright if it was good.

Now everyone wants to be paid in advance or force ad's down peoples throats.

You have a good idea and implement it well then you make money.

Too much junk around that doesn't even deserve to be released (Without a demo).

People don't like to be deceived (Well I don't anyway but people use Facebook so maybe people are ok about it).

I would rather have the internet of old where people just did stuff because they felt like it and there was less stuff that is plain wrong. (Or a really bad idea).

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Windows

"The firs developers that do this will make a lot of money".

No, they wont. The price of the apps is so low as to be appealing. Very few apps make lots of money. The ingame purchases / adverts / generate that missing revenue directly for the developers.

Rock and a hard place.

Perhaps an age verificaction system may be more appropriate...

Personally, i detest any adverts or ingame purchasing. Its a slimy bastards trick......

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Re: "The firs developers that do this will make a lot of money".

The problem is people don't want adds though also won't pay much more than a pound for a app, when was the last time you downloaded a app for £2/3?

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Go

Re: "The firs developers that do this will make a lot of money".

last week the humble bundle for £2.50 :-)

Co-pilot is the most expensive app I have, followed by an ordnance survey mapping program "memory map". SPB shell was a few pounds too.

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Paris Hilton

Can you no longer cap your call balance?

I ask this seriously as I guess, like many people, my phone has so many minutes of bundled time to landline and other mobile numbers that it is to all intents and purposes unlimited.

However calls abroad and to premium numbers cost a fortune, but since I never let my kids play with my idevice (but the wife occasionally does hers) it makes me wonder if operators still offer the ability to cap outgoing call costs at £xx ?

Seems to me that that would be an ideal safety measure - cap your outgoing calls and turn off in-app purchases?

Though I do like the idea of turning the device into aeroplane mode prior to handing it over anyway.

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Re: Can you no longer cap your call balance?

It was very rare to do it in the first place, most of the capped lines now are for secondary "teenager" contracts tied to the parent's contract. The only safe way to cap the line is to go with a top-up PAYG so once the money's run out its run out.

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Re: Can you no longer cap your call balance?

Apparently "Capping" is (somehow) not as firm as you would think.

There is (or certainly used to be) a delay of up to a couple of days before the cap kicked in if you went over it.

This is what I like to think of as the mobile phone companies profit margin.

Of course, if you are on PAYG they can instantly detect how much you have used and stop outgoing calls straight away...

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Re: Can you no longer cap your call balance?

My phone contract came with a £50 cap on monthly bills, didn't ask for it, but I like it! I guess they figure with the amount of free minutes and unlimited data there is no real need for more...

I got contacted by them when I went close one month (I knew what I had spent though)

I think all phone contracts should have a monthly cap, and they should ASK you at the time of taking your contract out what you want it to be..

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Unhappy

Re: Can you no longer cap your call balance?

3 do offer a zero cap as I found out this morning. My wife (who is not very tech savvy) has just started an Open University course and when she logged in yesterday a pop up appeared which seemed to come from the OU asking her to complete a short survey about her access to the OU web site. The small print did mention that it was nothing to do with the OU however but failed to mention that putting in your phone number in the survey would sign you up to TextPlayWin which gives you the fantastic chance to win an iPhone or iPad every week for ONLY £4.50 per week. She very quickly realised she had fcuked up and so I had to try and stop it this morning. The phone company said as we had signed up for it they could not cancel it (surely they should be able to stop things being added to your bill!) but they did offer to sign me up to their zero cap feature. You can only enable this once though as I wanted to enable it for a few weeks and then take it off just so that TextPlayWin cannot bombard me with another 10 expensive texts along with a message saying it will take a week to cancel their service (which happened to a friend of mine who got signed up to a similar scam).

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Re: Can you no longer cap your call balance?

I received this "you've won an iPad competition" in-app advert over the weekend (I was playing one of the free angry birds games we've downloaded to an iPad for my 7 year old son).

The worrying thing was that it only required you to enter a mobile phone number to sign up to a expensive subscription service - the advertiser had effectively made the iOS in-app purchase bar and absence of payment card details an irrelevance, they will still get paid until such time as you are able to get the subscription cancelled. My children know our mobile phone numbers and they like to win competitions ...

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FAIL

If I was a) stupid enough to buy an iThing and b) stupid enough to give it to a child who accessed this dross, I'd say "Get the money from my two year old. If he doesn't pay, take him to court."

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You don't have small kids do you?

My 14 month old can unlock an iOS device (as long as there's no PIN), find the folder with her apps in it and launch them. She also knows how to quit out of an app to launch a new one. Trust me, kids are fascinated with touch screen phones/tablets.

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Childcatcher

Re: You don't have small kids do you?

My 7 year old beat Minecraft and installs mods. Children are naturally clever as they are reality's QA department. And they never tire out, but their attention spans are ludicrously short unless they're doing something you want them to stop doing.

Passing your kid your phone has a tremendous amount of convenience, and they might as well learn technology as early as possible. Life as a kid isn't like it was thirty years ago. Life as a parent isn't either. Most mothers are full-time workers so either parent is usually getting home stuff done when they're not at their job. There's less errand downtime, even more things to do, more things to keep track of, and you drag your kids everywhere with you because you moved to wherever you could find a job, which means the kids' grandparents and other family can't just watch them for you. You're on the run, you're keeping track of Reality's Hyperproductive QA and Drooling Machine, you've only got so many arms, you don't want to lug ten gadgets and toys and stuffed animals with you. Let's be serious, if you don't pass the kid your phone it's because you've already gotten the tyke a tablet.

I remember when the NES was going to be what made society fall apart. We're still ticking...

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Stop

Follow the money?

Whatever provider you use is quite happy to take the money off you, which seems to be the weakness of the "premium rate" system. It's not necessarily taking your card details, it may just be raiding your account or nabbing the PAYG credit. For some reason is they're quite happy to keep doing this, so they'll make you jump through hoops to try to get your money back. As used by scammers for a long time.

The solution would be an opt-in approach, but this would of course affect the revenue flow, so it 'aint going to happen in a hurry is it?

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The obvious solution

The obvious solution is to ban premium rate texts and calls. Completely. Forever.

No-one with an IQ over 100 wants them, and more than 50% of premium rate services are in one way or another dishonest.... scams. From "competitions" with obvious answers that are nothing more than illegal lotteries, to "voting" lines and texts that don't get registered or charge people who "vote" after the voting period is over, to the "chat and date" industry that everyone knows employs thousands of women to pretend to be genuine daters to keep men on the line.

The whole industry is crooked.

I know of no other service/product that is still legal where half of the traders have been shown to be dishonest.

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Unhappy

Re: The obvious solution

Was I the only person who read the articles about how the "social game networks" are actually funded by essentially con men, spammers and rip off merchants ?

http://techcrunch.com/2009/10/31/scamville-the-social-gaming-ecosystem-of-hell/

This is the same ecosystem that is moving to FTP apps on your mobile phones.

Enjoy.

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Re: The obvious solution

Exactly casaloco. Its a crooked industry and I can't think of a single honest reason why OFCOM resists making premium rate calls an opt-in for all telecom services.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The obvious solution

50%? More like five sigma. Finding an honest premium rate service would be like finding dark matter with a miner's lamp.

There is simply no honest use for them.

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FAIL

OMG really?

Maybe I should stop bitching about the Android permissions, then.

I want the ability to personally grant or revoke the requested permissions for apps (e.g. permanently revoke location for the facebook app but allow others it wants).

But at least Android _has_ those permissions and you can choose not to install when it displays what the app wants.

Amazed ios can't (won't) do that

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Thumb Up

Re: OMG really?

I'm with you on that, I want to be able to revoke permissions, or even install apps while denying certain permissions!!

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