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. Sorry, but if you are spending money you should be asked for your password every. Single. Time.

    (I trust Apple to have good reasons behind what they do, but what I have seen over the years is when something is wrong it gets fixed within a few updates.)

  2. I agree that this should not be a government issue. However, I believe there are companies that are targeting kids and knowing that they will have the potential of making lots of money at the expense of parents. The most blatant one is the Smurfs Village app. The app is free and can be played without ever making an in app purchase. However, if you don’t want to wait hours before your “crops” grow and your “houses” are built, you have to purchase Smurfberries. They have options to buy one or a wheelbarrow full. They range from $0.99 to near $60. The problem is that this app is not asking for the password for the in app purchases. Hundreds of dollars worth of Smurfberries get charged to the credit card.

    This really comes down to parents being uneducated about how the apps really work. The kid wants to get a free game based on a cartoon (plus a movie coming out this year) and the parent sees no problem with it. The kid begins to play and then are offered Smurfberries at a cost. Many kids do not know that these actually cost real money. My kids play Internet games where they earn coins that can be used for other things. These do not cost any real money but the coins are in their virtual bank.

    I think an attempt to educate parents will probably go unnoticed. One of two things need to happen. Either have the in app purchase default to being off and only allow it to be enabled with the iTunes password used to purchase apps. Of course it would need to be connected to iTunes to turn it on and then a big warning could come up explaining implications of in app purchases. The other option is to require the password every time.

  3. What is it with politicians (especially Democrats) and their insatiable need to control every aspect of our lives for ‘our own good’?

    From eating the wrong food to driving the wrong car and now to parenting.

    Look, this is an individual responsibility. If a parent is stupid enough to let a kid purchase apps without supervision, that’s their fault.

    Doesn’t Congress have some actual important things to worry about?

    1. What is it with politicians (especially Republicans) and their insatiable need to control every aspect of our lives for ‘our own good’? They seem to care so much about what happens in other peoples homes, in private, and whether it offends their religious sensibilities.

      Rant over. There was no need to target one political party, when both have sinned in over-meddling.

      In this case, I’m more interested in what Google has set up. If iOS needs more protection (which is why the FTC is having this discussion), I suspect that Android is in much deeper waters.

  4. Did my taxes last night with TurboTax. Opted for the “free” e-file at the end. After I get way into the e-filing process it turns out that the Fed e-file is free, but the State e-file is $19.95. On top of that, a little further down the road you find out that if you want to use a credit card to pay any taxes due there’s a $29.95 surcharge. So then I get all done and it says I may have to print out a form or two. Turns out it’s the payment voucher, which I then need to mail in. SORT OF DEFEATS THE PURPOSE OF E-FILING, FOR WHICH I PAID $19.95!!!!

    This is the kind of cynical, “screw them once and run” business philosophy that is all too rampart in our brave new “business is royalty” world. When corporations become conscience-less, sociopathic monsters it’s time to put a regulatory collar on them.

  5. what are kids doing with cellphones. its as twisted as the games that pop up for infants and young children for the iphones… iphones are not childrens/infants toys.

  6. The stupid american uftc should investigate home phones too now.. and if you should be allowed to direct dial long distance because some kids pick up telephones and dial hongcouver or new zealand and rack up mommy and daddy’s home telephone line.. oh wait, its still allowed to direct dial? what? responsibility? on american children? AS IF! america, wake up. stop fluffing off responsibility onto others because youre too ignorant to BLOCK apps from doing things without a PASSWORD, a small thing called safeguarding. Try it. The rest of the world has.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.