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

Shame it didn't notice the PREMIUM RATE click-to-call ads

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

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 purchasing. Parents are now learning how to switch it off before handing the phone over to children as a digital pacifier, but it looks like advertisers are now returning to an old habit: including embedded ads that dial a premium-rate number without so much as a warning dialogue box.

Ofcom's latest round of consumer advice takes the form of five videos showing how to switch off in-app purchasing on an iPhone, a Windows Phone, two versions of Android and a Blackberry, preventing users from spending their money (or, more commonly, their parents' money) blinging out an Angry Bird, buying wagonloads of Smurfberries (the largest bundle will set you back nearly £70) or upgrading their ammunition.

But that won't stop an iOS application running up charges should the pacified child tap on the wrong advert:

An example advert

Inappropriate adverts, but what would be appropriate for a two-year-old?

While Android has granular permissions, where apps have to specifically ask for the ability to make phone calls, an iOS app can do anything once Apple has approved it, so a single tap on the above phone banner advert starts the meter running at quid a minute.

We spoke to the developer of Sound Touch Lite, an app which keeps the smallest of ankle-biters calm with pictures of animals accompanied by suitable noises, but the free version takes ad feeds from two different advertising engines, neither of which have responded to their questions about the advert. They've updated the app to exclude this specific example, but the problem remains.

Anyone who claims one should be watching the children every minute to prevent such activity clearly has never had one, and many parents feel children should be free to explore the digital world without constant supervision.

We reported on this back in 2010, at which time mobile ad firm AdMob said it would look into it, but it's hard to fix as the advertiser isn't obviously breaking any of the rules.

The advert clearly states the price and provides a service. The problem is that parents who've carefully followed the Ofcom advice and switched off in-app purchasing might think themselves secured against bill-shock, but there's more than one way to fleece a pampered child.

Meanwhile, the OFT is looking into the practice of flogging expensive in-app add-ons and plans to publish its next steps by October. ®

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