Federal regulators are redesigning how your iPad works; U.S. FTC thinks it knows better than Apple

“It’s early, but the Federal Trade Commission is going to be hard to beat for the regulatory overreach of the year,” L. Gordon Crovitz writes for The Wall Street Journal. “Last month the agency approved a $32.5 million settlement with Apple in a case that the dissenting commissioner, Joshua Wright, says boils down to this question: ‘Do you really want a regulatory agency designing your iPad?’ He isn’t exaggerating. Mr. Wright’s fellow commissioners pursued Apple over what they decided was poor design of the iPad. This critique may be a first for Apple, which is renowned for superb design, including ease of use. But Washington knows best.”

“He noted that the FTC’s directive, which spells out how Apple’s buying process [In-App Purchase] must work for the next 20 years, ‘is very likely to do more harm to consumers than it is to protect them.’ For example, Apple already uses fingerprints to unlock its mobile phones and could do the same to authorize payments—except that would violate the terms of the FTC order, which didn’t anticipate this innovation,” Crovitz writes. “Mr. Wright called this opinion the ‘most problematic agency action I have seen in terms of the potential to cause harm to consumers. He added that ‘it demonstrates a distinct lack of regulatory humility… This is a product-design case brought in the guise of alleged unfairness to consumers.'”

“The FTC risks ridicule for its micromanaging. ‘In my day, when a kid spent his parents’ money when he wasn’t supposed to, a form of indentured servitude ensued to pay off the debt,’ wrote a wry reporter for Engadget.com. ‘These days, courtrooms and federal agencies are the parentally preferred sources of remuneration,'” Crovitz writes. “Google’s Android apps operate in a similar way to Apple’s. Banks allow customers to make multiple transactions online without re-entering passwords. So do many online retailers. Will the FTC review all their product designs, too? Redesigning Apple products redefines regulatory arrogance. Humility from government? Too bad there’s no app for that.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews readers too numerous to mention individually for the heads up.]

Related articles:
Apple to refund at least $32.5 million to settle FTC complaint it charged for kids’ In-App Purchases without parental consent – January 16, 2014
Apple’s Cook settles with FTC over kids’ In-App Purchases rather than endure legal fight – January 15, 2014
Apple refunds 8-year-old girl’s $6,000 bill for in-app purchases – July 21, 2013
Apple notifies parents of In-App Purchase settlement details – June 24, 2013
In-App Purchasing lawsuit against Apple allowed to proceed – April 21, 2012
Parents sue Apple over in-app charges – April 16, 2012
Lack of parental controls on Amazon’s tiny screen Kindle Fire lets kids charge up a storm – December 12, 2011
Freemium and Apple’s App Store: The in-app purchasing model really works – October 14, 2011

41 Comments

      1. I’d bet the simple fact that the commission chairperson is most recently from Quinn Emanuel has a direct bearing on the FTC’s actions much, much more than your implication that it has anything to do with your most hated person.

        And for those that don’t get the Quinn Emanuel reference: this is the law firm that gave privileged, confidential data about Apple and Nokia to Samsung directly against explicit court order not to do so.

        Such a commissioner going after Apple and not Samsung or Google? Who’d have thought it? /s

          1. Your statement just shows your unbridled hatred for the person and anything he may, or may not, represent.

            You assume he’s my ‘Messiah” when in fact, he’s often just the opposite for me. Your use of that term immediately throws you into a class of individuals not unlike those who would rather have *anyone* in that position than him.

            However, unlike you, I don’t hate the individual nor the work he does. I very, VERY often disagree with his position on things, but disagreement is radically different than abject hatred..

            What I do, most likely unlike you, is vote consistently even in non major elections, write my federal representatives (with calm, non objectifying language), and push to get various laws through. Hell, I’ve even personally drafted a couple that have gone through and signed into Federal Law with minor modification. What have you done other than spew bile?

            And I don’t subscribe to the lunatic position that everything the current bureaucracy does is due to his personal actions. AND, if you could see clearly enough, you would realize that a lot of the bureaucracy in the federal government is absolutely NOT under his control.

      2. Speak for yourself, I’m not American, and I agree. This sort of interference is totally anti-ethical, and almost malicious in its desire to make life as difficult as possible for ordinary citizens.
        It also seems to imply that the FTC have taken it upon themselves to be guardian for the whole world, as far as consumer electronics are concerned; showing a level of arrogance that I didn’t think even Americans would reach, considering their desire to police the whole damned world.

    1. The difference between the examples they mention [banks, online shopping sites] is “logout”. Those sites have a nice big/small LOGOUT button, so the end user knows fairly specifically when the computer can and cannot be used to purchase/access the information [and who has access to the website]. Apple makes it so you DO NOT have an easy way to log out of the App Store [login/logout is buried within the Settings app].

      Apple is intentionally making it a choice between “I will really annoy you by asking for your password a lot” or “I won’t ask for your password at all”

  1. I sometimes joke that I was never a criminal until I owned my own business.

    Seriously, as small of an operation as I have got I must pay an accountant and lawyer decent money every year just to ensure a wide range of compliance — and I still worry that I don’t do everything to the letter of the law because there’s just so much to know. Larger corporations have a entire departments to handle this stuff.

    With that in mind, now when I read stories like this one I cringe. I believe in safe working environments and treating employees fairly, and I do my best. I think my employees would agree. And yet, when I lose sleep sometimes it’s not a competition issue, a system failure or cash flow problem — all of which can be scary – it’s that I’m humming along with some looming violation I don’t even realize exists!

      1. A successful society (as in economically as well as social) is one that strikes the most appropriate balance between adequately protecting its citizens from danger and systemic unfairness and over-legislating. While this will always be a subjective balance, it need not be overtaken by either extreme (those who call for no regulation are wrong, and those who would rather there be more government intrusion into private business are also in error much of the time).

        Corruption and over-legislation are not the same thing. One disregards the law or even uses it for gain, while the other can be anything from intrusive to debilitating. This perception index you’ve linked to isn’t meaningless, but it only addresses how laws are (and aren’t) applied — not what the laws are specifically.

        1. You’re right, they aren’t the same thing at all. The study I cited is way too shallow to indicate much other than the degree to which people have been fooled about what is clearly universal corruption (in the sense of public money funneled to private hands).

          Your own comments stand on their own, and are far more germane to this discussion.

        1. You know, a bred-in-the-bone skeptic would treat a survey like this askance, questioning whether even an independent, non-profit organisation has any more trustworthy data than ballot box stuffers or poll riggers.

          And a true believer, of any ideological stripe, would seize on it, construct interpretations of it to bolster claims of his creed’s superiority; finding none he would ignore it.

          Your mild skepticism based on real world experience is a better approach by far. Anecdotal evidence (denounced by academics, but pfft) is evidence, of its own kind, that radiates out beyond the isolated example. Would your friend say what she did if everyone in Chile she knew didn’t think as she did? No, so I believe it.

          My approach is to look not at the differences between peoples (which as you point out can be due to missing factors) but their similarities, and call those characteristics quintessentially human. The similarity I see in this chart is that humans ALL form corrupt governments. ‘Nuff said?

          1. That’s diving into the vague realm I call ‘The Self-Destructive Imperative’ which. at the moment, is the most confusing aspect of human behavior in my experience. I know crime provides human incentive, and people tend to follow behavior that provides the greatest incentive, usually within the short term.

            I should have taken Psychology 101.

    1. the tragedy is, one of these days you’ll get sick of it and just say, “fuck it.” And yet another entrepreneur and the product and jobs that he generates will be gone. This is always the casualties of statism. YOU are not the criminal, the state is.

          1. Why, poor botvinnik, did I disrupt your musings amongst the nudibranch in your echo chamber? I humbly beg your august presence to forgive my lowly self. May you always be surrounded your own kind, O Majestically Humbaba Like One.

  2. Don’t give your kids your passwords. Don’t let them add their finger print to your iPhone. Some things are just common sense. However I have found that I hardly ever spend a dime on in-app purchases. I check out apps for what features they have and one, steer clear of the apps requiring paid add-ons, and find they truly aren’t necessary for enjoyment, etc.

    I would rather, pay for an in-app item, if it’s to support the developer, because they graciously gave the primary function of the app away for free. IE – to remove ads.

  3. There was a program on Al Jazeera America about the growth on laws and regualtions and policing agencies/authority. It explained how many are unknowingly violating laws without intent or knowledge and the arbitrary prosection of the “criminals”. We are moving close and closer to an absolute dictatership run by idiots.

    1. And on top of that, ANYone going into an IRS audit are usually told up front – You DO KNOW that you are fully responsible for everything on your returns, don’t you? . . with the auditor knowing full well that even the IRS personnel are not 100% sure of “everything”.

      It is just like the government, make it so hard that no one person in the IRS can comprehend all of it, but hold the citizen TOTALLY responsible for ALL that they (the IRS) doesn’t know.

  4. Apple already uses fingerprints to unlock its mobile phones and could do the same to authorize payments—except that would violate the terms of the FTC order, which didn’t anticipate this innovation

    OMF. #MyStupidGovernment

    1. Oh, I didn’t realize that Obama designed the new user interface for the iPad. I didn’t realize that the President knows exactly what over a million federal employees are doing and is directly involved with everything they do. Thanks for enlightening me to the fact that Obama is such a genius. I can see why you voted for him.

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