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SMS question and answer app fined £70,000 over blurry charges

It's all in the small print
Thu Mar 06 2014, 11:17

UK MOBILE PHONE REGULATOR Phonepayplus has fined Australian app outfit Bongo £70,000 over its monkey question and answer software terms and conditions.

Bongo is an SMS service that asks people to ask it a question via text message. We assume that it is not aimed at privacy experts but rather kids that like to know what other people might know about them and have questions that they want to ask a virtual monkey.

"Bongo has been using his super brain to help with the human emotion of love lately, he is often used by celebrities to dig up the juice on one another," it 'explains' on its website. "He has the unbelievable ability to find out personal information about anyone, anywhere! And of course he can answer literally any question you have - trivia, weather, train timetables, assignments... anything!"

Parents have been concerned about the amount of money it has raked in, and complained to the regulator. Messages to the service cost £2.50, it said, and in at least one case a child has bunged £200 at it. In its decision Phonepayplus said it received almost 70 complaints from parents in a six month period.

Phonepayplus has ruled on these complaints and lobbed a fine at the Australian monkey app because it didn't make its charges clear. The regulator fined the firm £70,000.

"This case involved some high charges, and in many cases users were children," said Patrick Guthrie, Phonepayplus director of strategy and communications to the Guardian.

"This highlights the need for providers to be absolutely transparent about the cost of their service, and for parents to discuss with their children how to use services without running up high bills."

The ruling noted that the service was heavily promoted on Facebook and television and was represented at pop concerts, but it did not put his charges in particularly prominent positions.

A spokesman for Bongo replied to the newspaper, saying that it is disappointed by the fine, and added that it has been discussing its business with the regulator for some time.

"We adhere to strict marketing regulations in each territory and have a complaint rate of less than 0.005 percent in the UK," said the firm.

"We are disappointed that despite meetings as recently as November 2013, the regulator has chosen to take this course of action. We will, however, continue to work closely with Phonepayplus to ensure all regulations are adhered to, and ensure our customers continue to enjoy the Bongo service."

You have to be, or at least say, that you are over 16 if you want to access the Bongo website in the UK, and Bongo does not "recommend using the service more than 20 times per month".

App charges have become rather controversial and last month the European Commission (EC) sat down with the industry to discuss in-app payments and so-called 'free' apps.

"Often consumers are not fully aware that they are spending money because their credit cards get charged by default. Children are particularly vulnerable to marketing of 'free to download' games which are not 'free to play'," the EC said. µ


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