Apps are conning users, warns industry regulator

The great app swindle

Phone-paid services watchdog PhonepayPlus has warned that some mobile apps may be conning users with hidden charges.

The regulator - which polices any purchases through phones - cautioned that apps are charging users without their knowledge or consent. The BBC cited one example where an app automatically sent and received text messages costing £4.50 each, later shut down by PhonepayPlus. Other areas for concern include expiry dates of virtual currency and a lack of password protection, automatic subscriptions and clarity regarding the true cost of in-app purchases and add-ons.

In an effort to curb these scams, PhonepayPlus has developed a set of proposed guidance notes on app payments and charges, open to consultation until 5 December 2011. These notes will later be finalised to create a code of practice for app developers and sellers in the UK.

App store cons

Earlier this year users were left cold by the Naked Sex app, which did not deliver what it promised. However, arguably the biggest App Store con ever was in 2008, with I Am Rich - an app costing $999.99, which did nothing but display an image of a glowing ruby. Eight users purchased the app before it was removed by Apple, one day after its release.

Adrian Mursec, senior developer at theEword, said: "The various app marketplaces and stores spend a lot of time vetting low-quality or offensive apps, but the next step should be regulating in-app payments and charges. The proposed code of practice from PhonepayPlus should put an end to scams, but of course, the hard part will be enforcing it."

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