Article published on Friday, February 25th, 2011
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The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) announced that they would be conducting an investigation into the practices of games that use the free-to-play model. Several politicians have complained to the FTC about the lack of regulation and enforcement for young children who purchase virtual goods unknowingly.

The investigation will check if game developers and publishers are correctly identifying content that has to be purchased. A letter from Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) indicated that children were making purchases of in-game virtual items without parental consent. However, are the game developers or the parents of these children the one at fault? How are these children getting the cash, credit card, online banking information, etc. from their parents? This may be an issue for some free-to-play games that are played on mobile devices as users are automatically charged on their phone bill when making a purchase of virtual goods/downloads.

"We fully share your concern that consumers, particularly children, are unlikely to understand the ramifications of these types of purchases," said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz. "Let me assure you we will look closely at the current industry practice with respect to the marketing and delivery of these types of applications."

“After the Washington Post first broke this story earlier this month, I sent the Federal Trade Commission a letter calling on the agency to investigate the issue of ’in-app’ purchases and provide additional information about the promotion and delivery of these applications to consumers, especially with respect to children," Markey said in a statement about the FTC’s decision.

"What may appear in these games to be virtual coins and prizes to children result in very real costs to parents. I am pleased that the FTC has responded, and as the use of mobile apps continues to increase, I will continue to actively monitor developments in this important area."

Apple has yet to respond to the investigation, but the FTC has confirmed that the letter was genuine.