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iPhones dialling up premium-rate bills again

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AdMob has been placing premium-rate numbers into iPhone applications again, this time in an application targeted at kids, who are even more likely than adults to hit the link without noticing.

The application concerned is "Talking Tom Cat". The free app records the user's voice, and plays it back with comedy animations to the delight of the whole family. So entertaining is the app that some users have given their handsets to their offspring to play with – who then manage to make premium rate calls thanks to a link in the embedded advertisement.

A quick look at Who Calls Me reveals a list of people who've been hit by calls to the number dialled by the offending advert, but few of them have tracked the behaviour down to the talking cat. Not that it's just ankle-biters doing it - adults are just as capable of accidentally hitting a link, and while a dialogue is supposed to pop up that's apparently not happening.

"We are also not satisfied with these dialing ads appearing in our app," the developer, Outfit 7, told us, adding: "I personally have written to AdMob at least 5 times concerning this problem."

It's not the first time this has happened: an almost identical incident in January saw users of the novelty application Bubblewrap suffering the same way. At that time AdMob explained to us that it was down to a unfortunate combination of bugs and errors that couldn't have been predicted, and would be fixed shortly. This time the company was rather more succinct:

"Click-to-call ads with premium numbers are classified as age-appropriate and normally would not appear in apps for children. We will work with the app developer to block these ads if we discover they are showing."

Obviously free applications have to be paid for somehow, but users do not expect the cost to appear on their next mobile bill, and if AdMob can't get this fixed it's going to make Apple's iAd an increasingly attractive option. ®

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