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Facebook gaming may violate consumer rights

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Consumers' Foundation (CF) is raising awareness among Facebook gamers of the agreements they accept before playing, as many terms and conditions may seem unfair, including those for the hugely popular “Candy Crush” and “Farmville 2.”

The foundation conducted a survey of 20 different Facebook games' terms and conditions, and found that 16 of them issued a disclaimer notice absolving themselves of responsibility for any game failure, error or termination, or provided no link to access the terms and conditions.

This means that the games' makers are not responsible for any system problem, such as the cancellation of paying users' accounts. According to the Online Gaming Standard Contract Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), service providers have the responsibility to maintain their software, and if they fail to, they must return to users the lost gaming quota during the system crash or provide other compensation.

The 16 Facebook games surveyed that issue a disclaimer include “Candy Crush Saga,” “Tetris Battle,” “Baseball Heroes,” “Dragon City” and “ILoveCoffee.”

“Users should be alert to these notices and check to see if the distributors are based in Taiwan,” said CF Chairman Mark Chang. “Many distributors are based in a foreign country, making them even less safe for consumers.”

According to the CF, there are roughly 13.2 million Facebook users in Taiwan, about 56.7 percent of the entire nation — the highest rate in all of Asia. Unlike many online games, those provided by Facebook usually give users the convenience of not needing to register, aside from being fee and download free.

“Although Facebook does not require users to pay any fees, most games offer a paid service for a more advanced level or virtual gaming weapons and tools,” Chang said.

“When that happens, the relation between a consumer and the seller is established, and the user is covered by the consumer protection law.”

CF Supervisor Hsu Ghe-yu (徐則鈺) commented that the gaming service provided by Facebook is a very new concept because it differs from conventional online gaming. “Because of how new it is, Taiwan does not have an actual law that targets such gaming services, therefore there are fewer restrictions on providers,” he said.

He added that it would be easy to locate the distributors based in Taiwan if users wish to file complaints with the CF. If it is based in another country, however, the foundation's ability to help would be very limited.

“That is why we urge users to think before they click,” he said.

The CF urged users to check twice before signing up for a game or check the terms and conditions to avoid forfeiting one's rights. It also asked the government to launch control management on Facebook gaming services, even though currently Taiwan lacks a law to restrict such services.

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