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Six-year-old UK twins buy $1,600 in virtual pets through iOS games

updated 06:30 pm EDT, Wed October 2, 2013

Parents had given children access to password; Apple refunds anyway

The "twin" problems developers targeting children with in-app purchases and parents who give children their iTunes password -- failing to grasp that it is tied to their credit card on file -- has yet again resulted in an excessive bill tied to in-app game purchases. In the latest case, a British six-year-old twin boy and girl were able to buy $1,590 worth of virtual pets and clothing across two different games. The father has called for tougher legislation for in-game app purchases.

Ashley Griffiths of St. Ives in the UK acknowledges his part in the mess, saying his children knew his iTunes password for purchasing apps related to schoolwork and games, and also admits he was aware of in-app purchases. Nonetheless, he says he was "shocked" at how quickly (a single weekend) the kids were able to rack up the impressive bill, which Apple later forgave as a goodwill gesture. He has since changed the password, but said that there should be "measures in place to prevent [these purchases], such as asking for credit card details."

"These games are aimed at children and the designers know exactly what's going to happen," Griffiths was quoted as saying by the conservative Telegraph newspaper. "Children don't understand the value of money, they just see it as a way of collecting more pets and clothes for characters in the games. I mean, who in their right mind is going to pay 75 ($122) for a virtual pet?"

The in-app purchases in the games ranged from around $4 up to over $120. IAPs inside "free" games marketed specifically to children has come under much scrutiny in the UK and elsewhere after a spate of reports of massive bills run up by the children of parents who were mostly unaware of the games' IAP options. One different six-year-old boy was able to rack up a $5,000 bill before his parents finally became aware of the cause of the drain on their bank account.

In addition to the standard Parental Controls that would block in-app purchases, iTunes has separate controls to require a password for each IAP transaction or to disable IAPs outright, and further sends billing information to the account's email address within 24 hours of the transactions. Apple has not yet, however, required that developers limit the cost or number of possible IAPs within games, despite mounting pressure from parents to do so.

This spring, the UK's Office of Fair Trading opened an investigation into the ways online and app-based games encourage children to make purchases in order to complete the game, and asked developers to stop relying on IAPs in games specifically intended for children, and encouraged parental awareness of IAPs to help discourage the use of games as "babysitters."




by MacNN Staff

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Comments

  1. bob.A

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 08-08-11

    ...but said that there should be "measures in place to prevent [these purchases], such as asking for credit card details."

    I have no sympathy, and Apple should have made him pay. Sorry, but all the measures necessary are already in place, and were prior to this happening. He should have turned of IAP and it would have never happened without his knowledge. Because he gave the kids his password, he should have EXPECTED something like this to happen...

  1. msuper69

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 01-16-00

    He gave them his password; he's responsible.

  1. BarTron

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-02-13

    He gave the kids his password, there is a reason to keep a password SECRET! tougher legislation myA$$. Be a better parent, try explaining things... and still BE A BETTER PARENT!

  1. DiabloConQueso

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-11-08

    "...there should be 'measures in place to prevent [these purchases], such as asking for credit card details.'"

    I understand where Dad was going when he said this, but it's flawed for the same reason password security is.

    If credit card info (last 4 digits, expiration date, or some such thing) is required in addition to a password, then you're going to be entering that information every time you purchase something -- in other words, almost as frequently as you enter your password.

    *It's just another password.*

    If the first password wasn't enough to keep them out, then a second more easily remembered password isn't going to do squat.

    I understand where he was probably (erroneously) headed with this, but in essence, he's saying, "One password isn't enough. Put two... that ought to do it."

  1. mr100percent

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 12-06-99

    Why do we demand the government step in and ban stuff because of their own irresponsibility?

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    I think he's just covering his embarrassment a bit. There is a point he makes about predatory children's game publishers that I think does warrant some looking into (as was done), but overall I think he's just coming up with a rationale for what he at least partially admits was his own mistake.

    It's refreshing to see someone not blaming Apple for this (since they have nothing to do with it, if anyone used Android tablets we'd see exactly the same thing), not suing anyone for it and owning up to his initial mistake.

    The lesson here is more than just "don't give your kids your account password," it's also a warning about IAPs generally and the fact that six-year-olds are smarter than you think!

  1. TomMcIn

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-21-01

    This is a prime example of why they should put birth control drugs in the drinking water.

  1. jdonahoe

    Junior Member

    Joined: 07-05-06

    The easiest answer is to do what I do, don't have a credit card on file. I just buy a new itunes card for a nominal amount, say $25 and when it gets low, I buy a new card. If you don't have the funds, it tells you.

  1. nowwhatareyoulookingat

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-13-09

    Yes, it's totally reasonable for a childrens game to have $50 or $100 in-app purchases. Free market rules! If you are able to sucker a child into buying it, then you are $100 richer!

    Would you think it the same if a stranger tricks your child into giving him your car keys that you left on the counter by the door? Oops, you should have made sure the keys were out of reach of the child.

  1. James Katt

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 03-02-08

    We need tougher laws against stupid parents.

  1. SunSeeker

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 04-12-01

    Parents should create a separate Apple ID for each child.

    Apple should allow restricted Apple IDs for children (currently

  1. efithian

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 04-21-04

    With the iPhone 5S, a parent can use his fingerprint to unlock the phone, and, if desired, use hie fingerprint to make app and in-app purchases. If a parent uses the child's fingerprint to unlock the phone, he can choose to not allow the fingerprint to make app and in-app purchases. If the child tries to enable the app purchases from his fingerprint, he will need the password to enable that feature. So it is ok to let your child unlock the phone with his fingerprint without allowing app purchases with the same fingerprint.

  1. Grendelmon

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 12-26-07

    Oh please

    The guy flat out admits it was his fault for giving them his password. What he's saying is the developers need to KNOCK OFF the massive IAP bullshit. Gameloft blatantly does this. What "child" would have a parent agree to buy "a mountain of gems" for $100 to get a new virtual My Little Pony?

    It's ridiculous.

  1. Inkling

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 07-25-06

    One fix would be to establish sub-accounts for kids and let parents budget the money that goes into those accounts. Then kids would learn to manage what they buy. That'd also force developers to keep prices low.

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-25-07

    I can't possible think of a situation where I'd personally be likely to wrack up that kind of bill intentionally, but I can't rule out the possibility that others might, and should be allowed to without jumping through "excessive" regulatory hoops.
    If the kids knew the password, well, "game over." At the risk of yet another car analogy, if you gave the kids your car keys and they rolled the car into the street resulting in 1600 dollars of damage to your, and potentially other cars, would you be lobbying for stricter automobile regulations? Probably not. You gave 'em the keys.

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-25-07

    Oooo. Here's another thought. Stop downloading apps, that have in-app purchasing, for your kids! Period.

  1. Grendelmon

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 12-26-07

    Originally Posted by Flying MeatView Post

    Oooo. Here's another thought. Stop downloading apps, that have in-app purchasing, for your kids! Period.



    Haha... that's funny.

    Children's apps that don't have IAPs is becoming a rarity.

  1. andi*pandi

    Moderator

    Joined: 06-19-00

    Originally Posted by InklingView Post

    One fix would be to establish sub-accounts for kids and let parents budget the money that goes into those accounts. Then kids would learn to manage what they buy. That'd also force developers to keep prices low.



    great idea!

  1. Mike Wuerthele

    Managing Editor

    Joined: 07-19-12

    The "restrictions" password doesn't have to be the same as the iTunes account password, and there is a lock button in there for both the App Store and in-app purchases.

    So, let the developers do what they will and let the market decide. There are plenty of materials for parents to educate themselves on these devices, and it's not like this is the first time that this has happened, not by a long shot.

    This is 100% on the parents.

  1. thesearcher

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 03-17-02

    Originally Posted by jdonahoeView Post

    The easiest answer is to do what I do, don't have a credit card on file. I just buy a new itunes card for a nominal amount, say $25 and when it gets low, I buy a new card. If you don't have the funds, it tells you.



    This. Preferably when it's on discount.

    As for Gameloft, they aren't as bad as a certain acronymed company, which seems to use shills for reviews, and takes down forums to censor users (which they still can't admit).

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