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."