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ACCC calls for tighter regulations on app purchases

Seeing young kids playing on smartphones and tablets is an extremely common sight – after all, they’re dubbed ‘digital natives’ for a reason.

Yet unbeknownst to parents, a growing number of kids are racking up big bills through in-app purchases.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has today announced it’s joining an international push to identify smartphone and tablet apps that may mislead children into making unauthorised in-app purchases.

The ACCC and 50 other consumer protection agencies have engaged with marketplace operators like Google and Apple to protect and better inform consumers.

Delia Rickard, deputy chair of the ACCC, believes consumers need to be made aware that apps being advertised as ‘free’ doesn’t always ring true.

“Games and apps in the ‘free’ area of an online store may be free to download but attract costs for in-app purchases. Some of these apps are marketed for children, who do not connect the game they are playing with spending their parents’ money in the real world,” she said.

“I have heard from concerned parents whose children have been caught out with unfamiliar technology and racking up a sky-high credit card bill. A child can unwittingly make one in-app purchase costing $100 or 100 in-app purchases costing $1 each.”

The announcement follows a recent Google study that found Australia ranks second after Japan as having the highest average number of paid apps per smartphone user. The average Australian user has 10.9 paid apps, well ahead of the global average of 5.6.

The ACCC has some advice to help make sure you’re not caught out:

Parents’ checklist:

  • Learn how to control a device, including setting restrictions for passwords.
  • Consider disabling in app purchases for devices used by children. Step-by-step instructions are available here.
  • Consider downloading apps for parental control of smart devices
  • Get to know the technology your kids are using and the games they are playing
  • Consider switching the internet off on your device when children are using it
  • Use gift cards instead of credits cards

If children incur unauthorised in-app purchases:

  • Contact the app store as soon as possible to request a refund
  • Contact your bank to discuss any unauthorised charges appearing on your credit card
  • Visit the website of your local consumer protection agency or the ACCC for advice or contact them to make an inquiry or complaint
  • Some app related purchases can be billed to your mobile bill. If you have a dispute about charges on your mobile bill that you can’t resolve with your service provider, contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.