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UK Regulator Warns Parents to take control of children's smartphone bills

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Parents who don't talk to their children about what they spend on smartphones can be hit with bills that run into hundreds or even thousands of pounds, PhonepayPlus, the UK regulator of premium rate telephone services warns in a report published today.

The report lays out the regulator's plans and priorities to tackle the problem and help children and parents understand the potential costs involved in the use of smartphones and other connected devices.

Two areas of particular risk are highlighted in the report - risks around free apps and risks around social media linked to smartphones.

Complaints to the regulator about children and apps rose 300% in a year. The report highlights children's attraction to free apps, with 2-in-3 11-16 year olds downloading a free app onto their phones. However, as the report also shows, there are risks from apparently free services, with malware and in-app billing being particularly risky for children. In-app billing occurs when an initially free app charges for extras once it is downloaded. Malware contains malicious coding that charges the phone without the user's knowledge or consent. In one case, children as young as 11 years old downloaded free versions of popular games from the Android app store such as Angry Birds, Assassin's Creed and Cut the Rope. These fake apps charged £15 to the user's phone bill every time the app was opened without the user's knowledge.

Social media accessed via smartphones and tablets is also an area where parents need to be alert. Premium rate services promoted via social media has seen an explosion in recent years, with a 575% increase in users discovering services this way. The report highlights cases where individuals and promoters have taken advantage of children's trust and naivety on social media platforms. In one case a 14 year old girl was tricked into paying for virtual credits in a game when a social media 'friend' said she had no credits to phone her dying grandmother. In another case, children between 12-14 year olds were tricked into 'sharing' and 'liking' a promotion for supermarket vouchers on Facebook, virally spreading the promotion which misled users into taking part in a premium rate competition.

PhonepayPlus took robust action in all of these cases and said that it is working with Facebook to ensure that rogue promotions on Facebook are cut off.

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Tags: phonepayplus  UK