updated 02:15 am EDT, Thu April 4, 2013
Tweaked in response to growing need for parental awareness
Possibly in response to a growing number of stories of inept or naive parents who have inadvertently allowed their children to run up huge bills through in-app purchases (IAPs), Apple's App Store now puts the age recommendation of a given app directly below the title and author credit. The move effectively relocates the age recommendation to the first thing a buyer will likely see after the title. The change may also help parents who fail to activate parental controls to ferret out more adult apps that are not appropriate for a given child.
A rash of recent stories -- many illustrating some fairly obvious flaws in parenting -- have told tales of children who allegedly do not yet understand the concept of money nonetheless figuring out that buying expensive in-game purchases can help them win or advance, and consequently running up large bills. In some cases the child is playing a game that is clearly above their age group in difficulty, inspiring the youngster to seek help through IAPs. In others, the child is well past the age where abstract thinking, allowances and other means of promoting the concept that in-game purchases will cost actual funds, despite parents' protest.
In other tales, the child allegedly took advantage of a supposed "window of opportunity" after a parent approves one download or purchase by keying in their iTunes password and subsequently makes a rash of purchases without the parents' knowledge. However, Apple closed that "password window" over two years ago with the release of iOS 4.3, making the parental claims of being hoodwinked by the company less than entirely credible.
That said, another argument victimized parents generally make is a very valid one -- what are IAPs that sometimes reach up to $100 each in price doing in an app or game marketed and aimed specifically at younger children? Thus far, Apple has not officially done much to address this criticism, though it has been known to frequently "forgive" unauthorized purchases if the child was clearly too young to fully understand what they were doing, even if the parent was clearly at fault.
Parents in these stories often admit to having given the child the iTunes password -- required for each and every in-app purchase -- or making it obvious enough to figure out. They also frequently fail to restrict in-app purchases through Parental Controls, investigate apps to see if IAPs are needed to complete the program, check the age recommendation for apps or seemingly examine the email receipts mailed the next day by Apple to see if there are any large in-app purchases in a timely fashion.
The more prominent minimum age recommendation may also help prevent children from inadvertent exposure to pornography or nudity, AppleInsider reports. Apple recently pulled two applications -- the six-second social video app Vine, and the pro-photography portal app 500px -- due to nudity and possible pornography concerns. The apps returned after making some changes, but among them were ratings that now put the apps in the "17+" category, meaning that parents who restrict what is available to them on the App Store by limiting the age choices in Parental Controls will never see the apps.
The company also recently settled a lawsuit filed by a group of parents over the ease with which children could conceivably bypass even modest parental efforts to prevent in-app purchases. In addition to some forgiveness of bills run up by children (reviewed on a case-by-case basis), the company added a more identifiable indicator that a title may include IAPs.