Lawmakers raises questions about Apple's 'in-app' service

Purchases can sometimes confuse children, lawmakers say.

Two key lawmakers Tuesday waded into the growing controversy over so-called "in-app" purchases on mobile devices that have sparked criticism from parents.

In-app charges are part of new programs on Apple's iTunes store that allow companies to charge for products and services, and in some cases, items that act like electronic tokens to be used in games. The service caught the attention of Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., chairman of the Senate Commerce Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance Subcommittee.

Responding to a report Tuesday in The Washington Post that described children running up more than $1,000 in charges playing games on devices like iPhones and iPads, Markey and Pryor sent separate letters Tuesday to Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz asking the agency to investigate the matter. Markey wanted to know if such payments and similar industry practices constitute "unfair or deceptive acts or practices."

"I am concerned about how these applications are being promoted and delivered to consumers, particularly with respect to children, who are unlikely to understand the ramifications of in-app purchases," Markey wrote.

Markey also urged the agency to provide consumers with more information about "the marketing and delivery" of such apps, while Pryor asked for more information on what the agency is doing to "mitigate" consumer confusion about such services.

"Children, in particular appear to be confused by in-app purchases, leaving parents with an unexpected bill for virtual smurfberries, snowflakes or other products," Pryor wrote. "In the end, it would appear that these app companies may be the ones having all the fun and games at our children's expense."

An Apple spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the controversy.