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Apple could face 'legal undertakings' in UK over in-app purchases

Remember the UK police officer who reported his son to authorities for fraud after the 13-year-old ran up a US$5,600 bill for in-app purchases on the iOS App Store?

That kind of unexpected consumer cost has thrown the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) into a tizzy, and they've announced that they'll be starting a six-month investigation into whether children are being "unfairly pressured or encouraged to pay for additional content in 'free' web- and app-based games."

Our sister site TechCrunch confirmed that the OFT is contacting Apple and Google; not surprising, as the companies run the two largest app stores, but it's not clear whether either company could be held responsible for the actions of individual developers who abuse IAPs. While Google Play includes guidelines for developers and reserves the right to remove apps that abuse them, it does not review / approve individual apps for compliance in advance; Apple's App Store, of course, does approve or reject apps prior to release.

When the investigation is completed, the OFT could seek "legal undertakings from court" if it is displeased with the results. An OFT spokesperson told TechCrunch that companies ignoring court directions could face "an unlimited fine."

The OFT Senior Director for Goods and Consumer, the implausibly-named Cavendish Elithorn, noted in a statement that "The OFT is not seeking to ban in-game purchases, but the games industry must ensure it is complying with the relevant regulations so that children are protected. We are speaking to the industry and will take enforcement action if necessary."

Neither Google nor Apple have replied to TechCrunch with regard to the investigation.