updated 09:01 pm EDT, Mon March 24, 2014
Deals with unauthorized purchases made by children in games
As part of a settlement Apple agreed to with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over problems and excessive charges made by children through in-app purchases (IAPs), the company has sent out letters to some iTunes account holders, offering refunds "in certain cases" where a child has been able to make unauthorized IAPs without the parents' awareness. There have been numerous incidents made public of children who racked up extraordinary charges through IAPs.
The letter (seen below) mentions that Apple has "heard from some customers that it was too easy for their kids to make in-app purchases. As a result, we've improved controls for parents so they can better manage their children's purchases, or restrict them entirely." In fact, the iTunes Store has always offered the ability to restrict purchasing by children in a variety of ways, but many parents apparently allow their children unrestricted access to their own iTunes accounts, which are often tied to a credit card.
The problem of children's apps with in-app purchases (in some cases, needed to finish the game) is that parents often don't review games they let their children download to be aware that IAPs are offered, or don't instruct their children on the fact that IAPs involve actual money that is taken from the parents' accounts. Apple now offers a more visible way to switch off IAP purchasing as well as advising when apps offered on the store include IAPs.
Back in 2011, unauthorized purchases were also possible due to a "window" of about 15 minutes following an authorized purchase where the password did not need to be re-entered. Claims of multiple thousands of dollars in racked-up charges made during this "windows" have always been viewed dubiously, but Apple closed the window that same year in a software update.
Additional changes are likely to be rolled out this month, as Apple has a March 31 deadline to implement some of the reforms agreed to in the FTC settlement, including changes designed to ensure that all IAPs are expressly authorized. How Apple's changes will prevent accidental IAPs bought by children whose parents have willingly given them their iTunes password, however, isn't clear -- on the iPhone 5s, such "accidents" can be prevented through the use of Touch ID as buying authorization in iTunes.
Recipients of the email can fill out an included form and return it to Apple for consideration. The company does not guarantee a refund, but presumably will review applications against its own records to avoid fraudulent claims. The company has set aside over $32 million for refunds, though critics say that the issue is largely down to two other factors: predatory developers who make IAPs a key portion of the game experience, and parents who give children access to accounts tied to credit cards, or don't routinely monitor their iTunes receipts to check for unauthorized purchases before they skyrocket.
In addition to the refund offer, Apple's letter mentions the easy ability to check past purchases on both iOS and OS X by signing into one's iTunes account and reviewing the "Purchases" option. A special link is provided there for refund requests for unauthorized purchases. The deadline for the unauthorized child-purchased IAPs refunds is April 15, 2015.