App-based payments: UK regulator issues guidance
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PhonepayPlus, the UK's regulator of premium rate services (PRS), has issued guidance for mobile app providers that charge consumers via their mobile bill or pay-as-you-go account. The guidance is intended to help providers comply with the PhonepayPlus Code of Practice. The regulator is particularly concerned about apps that charge consumers without their knowledge or consent, or that are open to unauthorised use, leaving the bill payer with unexpected charges. Last year, it levied a fine of £135,000 against the provider of a free battery saver app that automatically signed up users to a subscription-based video clip service charged at £4.50 per month.
The latest guidance (which has already been the subject of a public consultation) covers:
Pricing information: The guidance is prescriptive about the presentation of pricing information where the consumer pays before downloading the app. For example, the information must be easy to find and close to the access code or purchase link. It should also be easy to read, presented in horizontal format and similar in size and prominence to the click icon or other "call to action", and there should be clear wording telling the consumer that clicking or executing the call to action will trigger payment, for example "click accept to pay £4.50".
"Freemium" apps: If the consumer receives access to the app, or a limited version, without charge, then the promotion must make clear what is and isn't free, when the consumer will be charged, and how the consumer can opt-out before incurring any charges.
In-app purchases: The guidelines recognise that for some apps – such as games where the consumer can make in-app purchases while playing – a balance needs to be struck between ensuring that the consumer is given full pricing information, and on the other hand, ensuring that the presentation of this information doesn't impact the consumer's enjoyment of the app any more than necessary. The guidelines offer a non-exhaustive list of acceptable information options for in-app purchases, including delivering the information before the consumer first uses the app, and after that, at each log-on.
Virtual currency: The provider must inform consumers of the exchange rate of virtual currency paid for via PRS and whether the rate is subject to alteration. Other relevant information includes the apps that accept the currency, any expiry dates, and restrictions on redeeming unused currency.
Security: All PRS purchases must be clearly auditable, and there must be robust evidence that the consumer has consented to the purchase. Purchases that are paid for using "Payforit" will generally be considered to be robust enough, as will purchases initiated using a mobile origination message.