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2 experts and 11 parents have answered

Ruth Arnold
Ruth Arnold Tech-loving parent blogger Sandbach, GB

It's vital that parents have an idea of what apps their kids are accessing, and either prevent them from playing games that involve in-app purchases or switch the in-app purchases off.

Is it unethical for apps specifically aimed at children to have in-app purchases? Yes, I think it is. But as a consumer I have the ultimate control - I don't have to have anything installed on my device that I don't approve of.

8 Reply ( 2 ) Share:
Opinion 4 years ago
Guto Lloyd-Davies
Guto Lloyd-Davies Father of 2 - Geek Denbigh, GB

Whatever your opinion on in-app purchases on so-called ‘freemium’ games - as a parent, its a wise precaution to restrict in-app purchases with simple pass-code prevention.

On iOS (iPod/iPhone/iPad) its relatively straight-forward and should prevent little hands from making a purchase from within an app.

Here's how:

Settings > General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions > Set Passcode > Confirm Passcode > Switch ‘in-app purchases’ to ‘Off’

The first time you enable Restrictions, it will prompt you for a passcode, and once again to confirm. This is the passcode that has to be entered to make an in-app purchase (or any other restrictions you set from this screen).

Note: If you set this to the same passcode as the screen-lock on the device, the child would simply enter that code (as they probably already know it!) So this is best set as a different code.

There is a range of other restrictions here that parents should study and enable as appropriate.

8 Reply Share:
Fact 4 years ago
Anthony Flower
Anthony Flower Father of three & web developer Christchurch, GB

I must say it irritates me to see stories of 'woe is us, my kid spent £12,000 on in-app purchases. First off I wish my credit so so good that £12,000 was even available on my card, but we'll ignore that for a moment.

We have two iPads, both are set to require the password for EVERY purchase no matter how recently it was entered. Both are also restricted (this is a different password from the iTunes one and again from the one to unlock the device) to not allow any in-app purchases. In several years of use we have never had a single purchase that wasn't authorised by my wife or I.

It is the responsibility of the parent to fully familiarise themselves with parental controls on any device children use. If nothing else, there is a lot worse out there accessible to an open device than an expected iTunes bill!

6 Reply ( 2 ) Share:
Experience 4 years ago
Siobhan O'Neill writer
Siobhan O'Neill Freelance journo and mum of 2

I just received a quote about this from an online pocket money provider saying kids should be taught the value of money. Well, yes they should but the story about the kid's enormous bill really bugs me. I mean, hello? Parental responsibility? Weren't they keeping an eye on his play and how long he was on there? Hadn't they spoken to him about the rules of playing on the iPad?

My girls know if things flash up on the screen they hand it to us to get rid of them. They know they never click 'Yes' on those things and actually we've put in the controls to ensure even if they do click yes they can't just buy things. My youngest only plays on a phone with no internet or 3G access in case she accidentally clicks something she shouldn't.

Yes there is something slightly dubious about the companies targeting kids but anyone playing games on their phone knows the developers have to make some money some way. If you're going to hand a device over to your kid, you are responsible, and you need to make sure you - and they - are protected.

4 Reply ( 4 ) Share:
Opinion 4 years ago
Matt Thrower writer
Matt Thrower Parent. Gamer. Coder. Writer. Bath, Bath and North East Somerset, UK

Recently Apple offered to pay out up to $100 million to the parents of children who had unfettered access to buy in-app purchases on iDevices using their parents’ accounts. Now iOS hardware forgets passwords after 15 minutes, making it harder for this to happen. But not impossible. It’s down to studios changing their business practices to stop this problem.

Getting a free kids game and spending a little on occasional extras is a fair concept. The trouble is that many apps using this freemium approach enter worrying grey area. Some have colossal $80-100 purchases available. Others limit play time without payment.

Just today, British child Danny Kitchen hit headlines for his £1,700 Zombies v Ninja bill.

Worst are those making direct emotional appeals to children like requiring payment to ‘cure’ a sick virtual pet. For youngsters with poor impulse control and no concept of the value of money, these purchases can seem extremely tempting.

The defence offered by the developers of these apps is that they have some adult users and some parents willing to pay, who shouldn’t be excluded from exercising informed choice. Instead the responsibility is pushed onto parents to properly enable the parental controls on their devices and monitor what their children are doing.

This isn’t enough. The more egregious examples of freemium apps are quite transparently targeting the child market as hard as they can. Many people won’t even know there are parental controls on these devices, let alone how to configure them properly.

Freemium can be a great model where it uses purchases to permit players quick access to game features that otherwise take patience or skill to unlock. But it continues to be abused by unscrupulous studios as a means to market to vulnerable children. It must stop. The hard question is how, legally, that can be done without restricting the many fair uses of in-app purchases.

3 Reply Share:
Opinion 4 years ago
expert answer
Rebecca Newton expert
Rebecca Newton Chief Community & Safety Officer US

This is a difficult situation in that children are not in control of their impulses and rarely have any real idea about spending.

I believe it's our responsibility, as parents, to teach children the value of money and the reality of spending. And to set limits, as well. And if they break that rule or our trust, there must be a consequence.

In my experience (and I've been working with literally millions of young people online and off for 30 years or more), we do children no favors by blaming the industry or store owner for our child's inability to control themselves. We have a responsibility to teach children limits and self-control. We also have a responsibility to guide them. We wouldn't turn them loose in Central Park or Hyde Park for 4 hours and say "now, behave and if you get into any trouble, call an adult to help you." We'd be in the park with them, watching but allowing them the freedom to explore, climb, learn and create with other children.

There are parental controls on every device. Apple has parental controls available for every account holder (the parent). And though the PCs can be daunting and annoying, they're no more annoying than using a child safety seat in a car or holding a hand across a busy street. It's what we do as parents. We don't leave it to the beach owner or park owner to protect our children. We protect our children.

(I know this is long ...sorry!).

It is the responsibility of app suppliers, site operators and owners, to take reasonable measures to protect their users of all ages. Absolutely 100% it is. And as a person in the business of digital entertainment for kids, I take this responsibility seriously. We provide the best technology possible and employ highly experienced, professional staff to protect kids and everyone on our site and off site (with toys, etc.) and to ensure a fun, safe experience.

It takes a village, but it starts at home.

3 Reply Share:
Experience 4 years ago
Ben Sullivan
Ben Sullivan Father & Video Game Producer Burnaby, CA

The issue with the Apple lawsuit was due to games that were advertised as "Free" not adequately explaining that they contained in-app purchases. I don't think we can really fault parents for downloading a "Free" Sesame Street game and not knowing there were in-app purchases available. From what I've heard Apple has been very reasonable about refunding these charges if you contact support.

Thankfully modern app stores have controls for this. On Android I have to type in my password every time I make any kind of app purchase.

3 Reply ( 2 ) Share:
Fact 4 years ago
Erika Kerekes
Erika Kerekes Mom of 2 boys, food blogger Santa Monica, US

You all might find this interesting: There's a relatively new handheld Android wifi device called the MG, from a company called PlayMG in San Diego (full disclosure, they're one of my clients).

The MG has a Family Collaboration System built into it that allows you to pre-set spending limits for apps and in-game purchases, plus it sends you a detailed email every week with all the apps and websites your kid has bought or used, time spent, etc.

The people who developed the MG are parents like us and they had this exact issue in mind when designing the device. It's great to be able to give kids some autonomy so they don't have to ask you for each purchase, but parents need to know what their kids are doing and put limits on it.

Plus it provides teachable moments - "Oh, it's only the 2nd of the month and you already spent your $5 app allowance? Guess you'll have to wait until next month."

1 Reply ( 3 ) Share:
Fact 4 years ago
Jose Jimenez
Jose Jimenez London, GB

I do believe it is unethical to allow in app purchases for games aimed at kids. Parents do have a responsibility and having the tools to block these purchases certainly helps but what bugs me is that there are games aimed at young children that have these in app purchases in the first place. The game producers know who they're aiming at and really, they should be protecting parents and not putting them in the position that some find themselves in.

Some parents don't have the same understanding of technology as others so my sympathise do lie with them when they discover they have a big bill. Why would they think that an innocent game can lead to this? I know there are some other issues as mentioned here re value of money but still, I think its very naughty when (some) game makers know full well what some of these purchases might lead to.

1 Reply ( 1 ) Share:
Opinion 4 years ago
expert answer
Adam Clark expert
Adam Clark Father of 5, Technology Expert San Luis Obispo, US
Technology expert

Definitely the parent. You aren't going to change the game industry by demands - unless that is the kind of demand offered by capitalism! Just don't buy those kind of games and you won't have to deal with it and if many people do this, they will start changing. If you still want to play those games, then use the technology available to lock purchase ability. You can do this on Apple and Android platforms so that there are no "accidental" purchases. If you buy it (the technology) and download it, you need to learn to use it right.

1 Reply Share:
Opinion 4 years ago
Kristin Bennett McNeely
Kristin Bennett McNeely Techie Designer Mom Seattle, Washington

I would like more warning/recommendation upon first getting a phone on how to change the settings... When I Got SMURFED it was definitely a surprise, and a lesson learned on how to make sure that it never happens again. Responsibility? I think it's mine if I don't want to pay for it and now that I know I need to avoid it...what is the saying?:

"Fool me once, Shame on you, Fool me twice, Shame on me"

That's how I see it...

1 Reply Share:
Experience 3 years ago
Endrukain Father of Two Thornton Heath, GB

I agree with Adam..

Definitely the parent.

0 Reply ( 1 ) Share:
Fact 4 years ago
Juha Rinne
Juha Rinne Software professional FI

I try avoiding details to keep my post short.

I am all in favour for new technology, including in app purchasing. So, I can see there is many good things in app purchasing can do for the user and the developer.

To me the problem is how fast we are able to adapt and scope with the new technology - developers, parents and system provider, like Apple. We also know that things will evolve ever rapidly so, we should really start to work together to solve these problems, blaming technology or each others will not help. It is not only our kids who can mistakenly or without better knowledge end-up making big spending, but of course they are easily the weak point.

So, as with other aspects of life, we all should help kids and their parents to manage. The parent is the best expert in understanding what his kid can and cannot. Responsible developers, parents and system providers can work together, so that parents will have easy to use tools for raising their kids, including the demanding new digital environments. With buying methods and all.

Please reade my post on setting iPad parental control for your kids.

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Opinion 4 years ago

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