Parental controls – paying a high price for freemium games

by , Researcher Technology 1 March 2013
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A little boy from Bristol taught parents everywhere a valuable lesson when he accidentally racked up in-app iPad purchases totalling £1,700 in less than 15 minutes. Have you had your wallet stung by a ‘freemium’ game?

Three children playing with a tablet computer

Five year-old Danny didn’t realise that the free game he downloaded was going to cause his mum and dad so much trouble. I can imagine his excitement at starting a new game and finding lots of cool extras to make the game even better. 300 bombs to kill zombies? Brilliant!

I can also imagine the confusion and possible panic that would follow finding a huge unexpected iTunes bill the next day. But how did this happen?

An easy mistake to make

Danny’s dad typed in his iTunes password so that Danny could download the free game. The trouble is, by default Apple devices allow purchases to be made without having to enter the password again for 15 minutes. This was more than enough time for Danny to rack up a series of transactions, each one costing about £70.

The good news for Danny’s parents is that Apple agreed to refund the full amount, although customers in similar situations do not have an automatic right to a refund.

The good news for everyone is that you can change the settings on your iPad or iPhone so that your password needs to be entered for every purchase. It is also possible to set restrictions on making in-app purchases.

Who should pay the price?

It was a goodwill gesture from Apple to refund Danny’s mum and dad, but I could understand if it decided to keep the money. After all, it’s not Apple’s fault that Danny was using the iPad unsupervised.

I’ve seen a lot of similar stories out there, however, so it does seem that Apple could be doing more to draw attention to its parental control options and the 15-minute purchase window once your password has been entered.

More and more parents are using tablets and smartphones as educational gadgets, as there are loads of learning apps designed especially for children. A friend of mine uses phonics apps to help her little boy improve his speech confidence and they have made a big difference. Keeping children away from smart technology clearly isn’t the answer.

Does your child use your tablet or smartphone to play games? Have you set any parental controls to protect your wallet from expensive surprises?

Should a parent be refunded if their child racks up unexpected app bills?

No (44%, 520 Votes)

Yes (35%, 408 Votes)

It depends how big the bill is (21%, 242 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,171

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3 comments

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william

This story reminds me of all the stories of people who have been stung with mobile phone charges when taking there phones abroad. Who who ended up with PPI they didn’t know/want. Outrageous as it may be that companies can do this sort of thing, it’s equally outrageous that so many people have gadgets that they clearly have no idea about and clearly have made no effort to understand. Companies are purely in the business of getting as much money from people as quickly and easily as they can these days. caveat emptor. Just look at how Apple have decided on a default of allow in app purchases. I hope people also switch off istore and itunes purchases too, otherwise their pride and joy could be downloading stuff from there to listen too whilst playing games. And I don’t even have one of these gadgets and yet I clearly know quite a bit more than many who do.

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svendhhh

It seems like a cynical business plan to sell anything in a micro transaction for as much as £70. It’s hard to imagine that price would be in any way justifiable, especially if it’s something you can buy multiple times. I definitely think parents should be able to get a refund in a situation like this, where it seems like the business is hoping for this kind of accidental transaction.

On a side note, it seems backwards that Apple devices by default don’t require password confirmation to authorise payments. For instance on an Android device, you need to tell it specifically to “remember password” before this is the case.

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Mo

The highest settings password settings should be on by default and you should be warned about the 15 minute buy window. £70 for an in app purchase is huge especially as you can do it multiple times. That’s top of the range console money in 3 goes not 300 bombs for zombies money. I think this is a real ball drop by Apple. It’s feels like a cash machine that stays dishing out your money for 15 minutes after you take your card out. To all the people that think there should be no refund I seriously question if they have kids, ipads and have seen these types of in game purchases.

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