As kids rack up huge bills, U.S. FTC asked to investigate iOS, Android In-App purchases

“Do in-app purchases take advantage of children and inadvertently cost parents way more money than they intended to spend? US Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) is worried that they do, and he has asked the Federal Trade Commission to look at the in-app purchase process offered by Apple and Google to see whether games that offer in-app purchases are unfairly marketed towards kids,” Jacqui Cheng reports for Ars Technica.

“Stories about children inadvertently spending thousands of dollars inside of their parents’ iPhone apps have circulated around the Web over the last year or so,” Cheng reports. “Parents need to enter a password the first time in order to authorize a purchase (or an app download), but iOS devices don’t ask for the password again until some period of time has passed, leaving eager kids to their own devices if parents aren’t careful.”

Cheng reports, “This phenomenon is hardly new, though it has gained more attention recently thanks to coverage from the mainstream press. That coverage is what led Markey to pen his letter (PDF) to the FTC, asking it to review the issue and possibly educate consumers about the dangers of in-app purchases. He also asked the Commission to determine whether Apple, Google, and app developers are engaging in deceptive marketing practices when they advertise games to kids.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: This is a real issue and it should go without saying that parents need to discuss the ramifications with their kids or not give them their password. Still, Apple needs to do a better job of preventing kids from making such purchases, perhaps by making it very costly to developers who attempt to take advantage of children. Tell developers that repeat offenders will lose App Store access, enforce it, and such unscrupulous practices will decline precipitously.

Of course, there’s always Settings>General>Restrictions>In-App Purchases “Off.”

36 Comments

    1. Agreed. More of the same old Lazy / Too Busy Parent Syndrome.

      Take personal responsibility for your choices! Put your kids back at the top of the list again! Apple provide tools to help your kids. Use them! Stop blaming others for YOUR faults! Be the grownup, not the irresponsible kid.

    1. You shouldn’t have to do that. A simple global preference setting to require passwords for each in-app purchase, or even Apple requiring developers to have this preference in their apps or not be able to participate in in-app purchases, would solve the problem.

      1. That is done to make it easier when you are shopping the App Store or iTunes, so it just carries over to in-app purchases.

        Maybe a preference for that would work, but I actually like it staying on for a bit. That is why I just reboot.

  1. This is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. The parents gave their kid the iTunes account password.

    That’s like dropping your kid off at the candy store with your debit card and PIN. Ummmm … what do you expect a kid to do?

    1. I don’t think a lot of parents realize that you don’t have to enter your iTunes password every time you make a purchase once it was entered. That’s the problem, but it is easily rectified by Apple either having a global preference to always require the password or requiring all apps to have an internal preference (the default would be to require passwords). Frankly, most parents don’t play games and may have no idea that you can even do in-app purchases.

  2. No, it isn’t an issue, not for the friggin federal government!

    You tie a credit card/bank account to something, give your kids access and then leave them to their own devices, you are a FOOL, who got what they deserved. PERIOD

    Wasting federal dollars, as if it is the federal governments role to educate idiot parents. Whats next ebay classes? Schedule them right after my sexting class please.

    It’s called PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY, or; “stupid is as stupid does” Now we need to legislate common sense, it will not end until the state thinks for you and makes all your decisions..

    Leave it to a donkey from MA, freaking massholes..

  3. sorry but something is not completely cooked.

    my wife entered in password for daughter and I got a 700 bill.

    freaked out three days later seeing the receipt in email I spoke with wife and daughter, 7 years old. both said the app said the stuff was free. I checked it out and it was very confusing for me. switching mirrors so to speak. I called apple and they reversed the charges. wife and daughter banned for one week.

    apple did the right thing .

  4. Understanding the device and knowing how to protect the password; is this Apple or the Parents’ responsibility, I figure a bit of both. Apple needs to enforce and educate those parents who are new to the device which will be in the hands of their children. Redeem cards are an excellent alternative for the parent to control spending. But Apple needs to get this message out in front now to make clarity and differentiate from the Android pack; then Apple shall be yet again the winning choice.

  5. It’s NOT the developer’s fault!! Christ MDN! the in-app purchasing is run by Apple…as are the Parental Controls. This is Apple’s issue and should be better handled by Parental Controls.

  6. @ mdmac

    No It’s not just Apple’s Fault so stop pointing the finger at just one entity.

    The Problem is with all parties involved,

    1.) Parents need to be more Responsible with C/C info.

    2.) Apple needs to work with Developers to add a Level of Extra Security to In-App purchases to allow the “15 Minute” Grace Period to be canceled and for a constant Password’s to be asked at every purchase.

    ————
    *(SARCASM ON)

    And how can you blame Apple for this, Let see…

    *Apple Told the Parent to give the Phone to the Child.. >>>>>>> Lets Blame Apple..

    *Apple Forced the Parent to put in a password for their iTunes Account therefore giving the child Access to in-App Purchases.. >>>>>>> Lets Blame Apple..

    *Apple in it’s Wisdom has NOT Set Guidelines that only persons of age 17 or older Legally Can use the App Store & Make Purchases through iTunes. But Again.. >>>>>>> Lets Blame Apple..

    No mdmac, you want only one finger to point at and that is at Apple, it just won’t work that way, But your entitled to your own theory.

    *(SARCASM OFF)
    ————

    In Closing, Parents Need to be More Responsible, I Have 2 of my own “Now Young Adults” in College and they turned out fine, It’s not because you are a good Parent, It’s when you can say “NO” when they are younger that helps establish a understanding with your child that makes you a Better Parent.

  7. Apple requires entry of a password for the installation of a free app. After downloading an app, you are kept logged in. A free app can have costly in app purchase, including apps aimed at children who don’t have an adult understanding of spending money. The option for in app purchase is off under system settings, and defaults to on rather than off.

    That this is a problem is basic failure mode analysis, something that has always been sadly lacking in software development. Poor failure mode analysis is poorly understood by the public, and there is a lack of underdstanding that bad failure mode analysis is plain old bad engineering.

    Bitch about markey all you like…the most likely result of his letter will be that apple will set the default to what it should have been in the first place–to require the user action to allow in app purchases rather than to require user action to disallow such purchases.

    Apple is know for good design, for being user friendly, and markets itself as being trustworthy and unusually protective of the user. Good failure mode analysis should be expected of apple.

  8. If you tie an account to a pre-paid credit card, then you can strictly control your potential liability.

    My four kids have handled things fine so far. One inadvertently almost bought an album in iTunes that I already had, but I fixed it. In the general scheme of things, that was pretty minor.

    I tend to agree with people who say that this is primarily a parental responsibility and not a Government responsibility. For example, if you give a kid a cell phone, what’s to stop them from making overseas calls and racking up a major phone bill. Is that “turned off by default?” Give me a break…But *please* cease and desist your knee jerk reaction to automatically assign a political link to a topic. I have seen plenty of people from both major political parties go whining to the Government when something did not go right for them. Most of the time, a strong application of personal responsibility is the best cure for what ails you.

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