After a number of recent headline stories about young children racking up huge bills with In-App purchases and Apple having to settle a class action lawsuit by parents relating to the iOS ‘freemium’ model. the iOS App Store now shows a sort of warning label on apps that offer In-App purchases.
For now, it’s a pretty innocuous little label just below the category and rating listing for an app in the iPad App Store. I think it could do with being a little more prominent, and perhaps even include the word ‘warning’ in front of it – or have a small symbol to indicate that it is a warning.
What do you all think? Is this label sufficient to make parents and kids aware or should the label be clearer?
The BBC has a recent report on an all too familiar sort of story of a young child racking up a hefty bill through In-App purchases in an iPad game. In this case 5 year old Danny Kitchen – from the city of Bristol in England – managed to run up a bill of around $2,500 in just a short time playing a ‘free’ game.
It turns out the game uses the freemium model – the game itself is free but In-App purchases are available and sometimes almost necessary to advance through a game effectively or relatively quickly. Danny apparently spent only around 15 minute with his game while racking up a large number of expensive In-App purchases at over $100 a pop.
The boy’s parents initially thought the iTunes receipts showing these purchases were just some sort of error and ignored them – and fortunately their story has a happy ending as Apple helped the family get a full refund.
It’s very easy to take away the ability for kids to make these sort of mistakes on the iPad – see my article on how to setup parental controls on the iPad for a step-by-step guide on how to do this. Stories like this one serve as a great reminder on how useful it can be to set some sensible restrictions on the iPad.
Here’s a small bit of good news on how the iPad App Store works. It looks like In-App purchases on the iPad are always prompting for a password now, even if you have just entered your password while purchasing or updating an app within the last few minutes.
This is a very nice change because previously the App Store would ‘remember’ the password for a period of 5 or 10 minutes after you used it – and this lead to some major issues with kids and crazy In-App purchases. There are far too many iOS games that are free but allow In-App purchases that can run into the hundreds of dollars.
We had an issue with this with our daughter who had for a time mastered the art of sly In-App purchases after dad had bought an app for her on her iPad. We had a long talk about In-App purchases being a bad thing, and also just physically turned off In-App purchases on her iPad. If you need to know how to do that, see my post on how to turn off In-App purchases on the iPad.
I know Apple has received a large volume of complaints about this issue and I’m very glad to see that they are tightening things up on In-App purchases.
From a report at Apple Insider yesterday:
Apple has reportedly had "strong words" with publisher Capcom about in-app purchases in the free iPhone and iPad children’s game "Smurfs’ Village," and is said to be considering adjusting iTunes account login times after receiving complaints from parents.
Citing a "well placed source," PocketGamer.biz reported Wednesday that Apple has taken notice of "accidental" in-app purchases of Capcom’s "Smurfs’ Village." As of Wednesday, the free application, last updated Feb. 4, ranked third among the "Top Grossing" applications on the iPhone App Store.
"Apple has told Capcom in no uncertain terms that its freemium children’s game has been causing problems with an increasingly significant number of parents who have complained that their children have been racking up large amounts of in-app purchases without their knowledge," the report said.
I’m not at all surprised that this sort of issue is making waves in the App Store. In-App purchases – especially in games such as this one aimed at young kids – have always seemed like trouble waiting to happen. I’ve also seen this problem first-hand, as my wife and I initially tried the honor system with our daughter (she’s only 7.5 years old) in her usage of an iPod Touch and an iPad she shares with her mom. We set out some clear guidelines for her – that included making In-App purchases forbidden – but we still had a couple of slipups. Slipups that lead to silly amounts of money being spent on ‘mojo’ and the like in games that make it easy to buy your way up through their levels.
If you’re a veteran iPad / iOS user you may want to look away as this is a very basic tip. But it’s one that had escaped my notice (despite it being right in front of my eyes) for some time, so I’m hoping it may be helpful to some of you.
If you have kids who use iPads or other iOS devices in your household (their own, or your shared ones), you may well have come across one of the App Store’s money pits: In-App purchases. My daughter is only 7.5 and she has racked up some silly numbers paying for power-ups and the like in a few games that shall remain nameless to protect the guilty. My wife and I have preached to her many times about how we don’t want her playing games that require frequent and expensive In-App purchases in order to advance in the game. We want her playing games where you make your way forward by skill and perseverance, not by putting a serious dent in our iTunes account.