Is FTC Action Needed Against Pricey Apps?

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Nobody ever went broke underestimating the apathy of the American parent.

If a parent drops off a child at a candy store, handing the child a credit card and saying nothing more than he’ll be back in 15 minutes, should that parent be angry with the candy store owner if the child ends up buying lots and lots of candy? Should the candy store owner have some special legal obligation to limit the price or quantity of candy that someone can purchase because his goods are more enticing than those sold at the neighboring hardware store?

This is a somewhat imperfect analogy to an issue recently raised with the FTC by three members of Congress. In early February, Rep. Edward Markey and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Mark Pryor wrote to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz expressing concern over the ease with which children can rack up real dollars playing games on the Apple iPhone and iPad. The letters were sent after The Washington Post published an article on Apple’s in-app purchase system, which offers many apps for free download that subsequently charge for actions within the application. The big charging culprits are children’s games, such as Smurf’s Village and Tap Zoo. The article provided some fairly egregious examples of children charging hundreds of dollars to their parents’ iTunes accounts to decorate their virtual Smurf gardens and homes with not-so-virtual pricey smurfberries and the like.

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