In-App Purchases: A Modern Day Parenting Challenge

As a parent, there are certain topics you eventually have to address with your children:

“The Birds and the Bees”

“Stranger Danger”

“Don’t Do Drugs”

The 21st century and the advent of apps created a new conversation: “Don’t Make In-App Purchases.” Minors across the globe are charging millions of dollars to their parents’ accounts while playing game apps, creating a new issue for modern parents to deal with.

In January 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that Apple, Inc. would be required to provide full consumer refunds of at least $32.5 million to settle an FTC compliant that the company charged for minors’ in-app purchases without parental consent. The settlement also required Apple “to change its billing practices to ensure that it has obtained express, informed consent from consumers before charging them for items sold in mobile apps.”

Google Inc. followed Apple’s path in September 2014 when it agreed to pay at least $19 million “to settle federal allegations that the Internet giant improperly billed parents for unauthorized purchases by their children while using mobile apps,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Like Apple, the company said it would change billing practices for in-app purchases to follow the same requirements that Apple agreed to.

As of December 2014, the FTC was moving forward with an identical lawsuit against Amazon.com, Inc., according to The Washington Post. Amazon attempted to have the case dismissed by arguing that it warns customers when an app contains in-app purchases and that the FTC could not prove that the charges by children were not authorized by their parents. However, a federal judge refused to dismiss the case.

Gainesville publisher and mother of three, Nicole Irving, is all too familiar with this parenting challenge. Her sons, ages 7, 10 and 11, have made hundreds of in-app purchases without her consent, and she estimates that they’ve charged at least $600 to her Apple account. Irving contacted Apple each time to see if it would remove the unauthorized charges.

“At first, I would say my son did this accidentally, and they completely understood,” Irving said.

The fourth time Irving called to have charges removed, Apple only refunded three fourths of the bill and made sure she knew how to put restrictions on her devices.

“They said that would be the last time they could refund me because at this point I should understand how to prevent it,” she said. “Which is completely valid. I should. But, you know, little hands will get into phones, and so now I have to be very, very careful to keep it locked.”

To prevent her sons from making more purchases, Irving changed her restriction code and also changed her password to get into her phone to something her children wouldn’t guess.

“I even had one smart son that put his fingerprint in to access my phone,” she said. “So I had to reset my phone. At this point, they’ve all gotten their devices taken away, unfortunately. They only have access to my phone when I want them to, but now I have restrictions on it.”

As a parent of young children, Irving said she wants her sons to have access to technology, have fun and learn responsibility by having their own devices.

“But in the end, they’re still children,” she said. “They still don’t understand fully the concepts of right and wrong, and they don’t understand the financial repercussions of hitting these things.”

Irving said she thinks this is a very difficult issue to deal with now, as technology is growing in the school systems and devices like iPads and iPods are great for educating children.

“My son learned how to play chess on the iPad. One learned all his ABCs on certain devices,” she said. “But what happens is that if you give them an inch, they take a mile kind of thing because they don’t know the repercussions. I think it’s something as parents we’re just going to have to keep battling.”

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