OFT’s principles for in-app purchasing published

The OFT has published its finalised Principles for online and app-based games.

In April 2013, the OFT announced the launch of an investigation into the ways in which online and app-based games encourage children to make purchases. The OFT investigated whether there was general market compliance with consumer protection law, in particular the Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trading) Regulations 2008 (‘CPRs’), the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 (‘the UTCCRs’) and the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 (‘the ECRs’). The OFT explored whether online and app-based games included commercial practices that may be considered misleading, aggressive or otherwise unfair under that legislation.

The OFT considered that a set of Principles would be the most helpful and proportionate approach to address the concerns the OFT identified during their consultation because they clarify their view of the entire industry’s obligations under consumer protection law. The concerns OFT has articulated are:

– a lack of transparent, accurate and clear up-front information relating, for example, to costs, and other information material to a consumer’s decision about whether to play, download or sign up to a game
– misleading commercial practices, including failing to differentiate clearly between commercial messages and gameplay
– exploiting children’s inexperience, vulnerability and credulity, including by aggressive commercial practices
– including direct exhortations to children to buy advertised products or persuade their parents or other adults to buy advertised products for them
– payments taken from account holders without their knowledge, express authorisation or informed consent.

The Competition and Markets Authority will, once it acquires its powers in April 2014, pick up from where the OFT has left off in respect of children’s online games.