Apple to pay $32.5 million to parents, and I’m partly to blame

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Kids' Apps

My family very much misses Freeverse, it would seem.

Now, when I say I’m partly to blame, I’m not serious. Let’s get that settled before I also get sued, because parents do love to sue people. We’ve got day care to pay for and Furby Booms to buy, and that crap ain’t cheap.

But when Apple has to pay penalties like this, it’s because of people like me: the smart consumer. Now, when I say “smart consumer,” I’m not implying everyone else is dumb. Let’s get that settled before I get sued. Before I explain my position, however, let’s take a look at what’s going on with Apple. From Reuters:

Apple Inc will refund consumers at least $32.5 million to settle a longstanding complaint that the technology company billed U.S. consumers for charges incurred by children through mobile apps without their parents’ consent.

This happens because:

The FTC complaint alleges that Apple does not inform account holders that entering their password in the company’s App Store opens a 15-minute window in which children can incur unlimited charges with no further action from the account holder.

In other words, if you download an app for your kid, be it a free app, a $0.99 app, or something by Square-Enix, you will not have to enter an iTunes App Store password for 15 minutes after the transaction. So, your kid can download other apps without approval, and can make in-app purchases ad nauseam.

This is why I’m partly responsible, as that 15 minute window is there for consumers like me. If I buy an app, then move on to buy something else—another app, a song, a movie, etc.—I don’t want to have to enter my password again. I hate entering passwords in succession. To me, that’s like having to show my ID to the grocery store checkout guy for every product in my cart, not just at the end of the transaction. I like the 15 minute window. I wish it was longer.

But this is because I know how the App Store works. I know that developers release free games, especially for kids, because that’s the only way parents will allow their children to download them. But developers need to make money, so they make you pay for items within the game; sometimes necessary, sometimes not. That’s what I mean by being a “smart consumer.” Of course, I have the advantage of covering Apple products on a daily basis. I knew how in-app purchases worked before there was a single app available that used them. Not everyone does, obviously, so the question is who’s responsible for making sure we’re all smart consumers?

It’s Apple’s. It’s their store, after all. Hence the settlement. But there are two things to consider here. First, I really hope we don’t get draconian measures from Apple to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I don’t want my user experience to suffer because some others had to contact Apple to get a refund. Second, it doesn’t even matter what steps Apple takes because kids (and adults) will still make erroneous purchases. Fewer, one would hope, but there will still be angry consumers staring at invoices for items they didn’t authorize because they weren’t paying attention, either to how the App Store works or to what they (or their children) were doing.

I would like to point out, also, that my experience with seeking refunds for iTunes Store purchases has always been positive. I once rented a movie from iTunes, but it was taking such a crazy long time to download that we bailed on it and grabbed the movie from DirecTV. When I emailed Apple about the slow download, they refunded the rental fee, which they didn’t have to do.

In another example, I bought a Stan Ridgway album from iTunes that I’d already downloaded from Amazon. Boneheaded mistake by me. When I contacted Apple, that may have been the E-mail subject: “Boneheaded mistake by me.” But Apple understood my boneheadedness (boneheadity?), and again refunded the purchase price.

So, it’s not like Apple is some evil corporation praying upon children’s needs for more coins, gems or virtual shoes, and their parents’ need to watch The Spoils of Babylon without interruption. Rather, they’re a company trying to find a balance between consumer protection and developer success, with users like us constantly shifting the wind. Here’s hoping this settlement doesn’t blow them too far to the cautionary, because if it does, I’ll seek out every child who inadvertently made a purchase not authorized by the iTunes account holder and give him or her a 15 minute time out.

Only not really, so don’t sue me. That’s what we parents like to call an empty threat. Who has the time for that, anyway? These episodes of The Spoils of Babylon aren’t going to watch themselves.

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  • Fareed Ansari

    Children can be consumers, like many of us were. We had an allowance for responsibilities around the house, or earned money on a paper route, baby sitting, shoveling snow, or cutting grass. We had our own bank savings account, and when we wanted something our parents could not get us (clothes we wanted, bicycle accessories, hobby and craft supplies etc.) we bought it ourselves. What we have here is a prima face case for child protective intervention, where unsupervised brats through no fault of their own, making consumer purchases on their parents credit card, that they probably lifted from their mother’s purse. Now the so called mothers want Apple to protect their kids from their emotionally immature, not ready fro prime time selves due to zero Home Training. It will be interesting to see how many sign up for the refund? It will be an admission that they are not qualified to raise children. Apple should appeal and or counter sue.