The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Fair play

CMF collaborated with the Office of Fair Trading on its consultation into in-app and in-game payments and the problem of “bill shock”.  The OFT has now published its finalised Principles for online and app-based games.CMF Director Greg Childs reports.The OFT intend these Principles should clarify the entire industry's obligations under consumer protection law.  This was something the industry representatives we brought to the table said was important - "stop the “rogue traders”. The new principles state that consumers should be told upfront about costs associated with a game or about in-game advertising, and any important information such as whether their personal data is to be shared with other parties for marketing purposes. They also stipulate that in-game payments should not be taken, unless the payment account holder, usually a parent, has given their express, informed consent. Failure to comply with the principles could risk being taken to court under Consumer Protection Law.

Nearly 90 per cent of children aged between seven and 15 have played online games in the past six months, with half paying to play at least once.

The OFT has published Child's Play - a guide to help parents ensure children are not pressured into making purchases and reduce the risk of unauthorised payments.

The OFT advise parents:

  • Check the 'payment options' settings on their device. One option is to make sure that a password is required for every purchase, rather than opening a 'payment window' in which the password will not be needed for any further payments.
  • Check whether there are any in-game purchases or whether the game contains a social element by looking at its description on the app store or the game's website.
  • Play the game themselves to understand what children will see.
  • Be aware that game content could change via automatic updates, so check regularly that they continue to be happy with their children playing a game.

The new Competition and Markets Authority will take over from the OFT in April 2014, and will maintain the system.

The OFT parental guidance has been added as a link on our info pages on the CMF website.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)