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February 24, 2022

Do Apple's in-app charges 'prey on children'?

God love my pops, but he’s not exactly Rembrandt on an iPad.

Istockphoto_5908146-deposit He bought one of the Apple tablets last year and, in between solitaire sessions in front of the TV at night, he pretty much resorts to mashing his fingers on the screen to operate the thing; aware but not totally conscious of what he’s pressing and when.

Though he’s not completely dreadful at using the iPad … um, how best to connect the dots here … it’s this same issue of “Well, I didn’t know what I pushed!” that’s at the centre of a new controversy in the States, where kids are unwittingly racking up huge charges through apps on iPhones, iPods and the like.

The Washington Post reports that the Federal Trade Commission, responding to horror stories of huge App Store charges, is weighing whether or not to mandate changes in how add-on products and services are marketed through mediums like the iTunes store.

As it stands now, with kids’ games like Smurfberries at least, children can unknowingly rack up massive in-game fees without really grasping how much they’re spending. One girl famously did this earlier in February, piling up $1,400 in charges on things like a “bucket of snowflakes” and a “virtual wagon of Smurfberries” in the game, which is free for download but can charge for such products once the app is launched.

While the girl’s mom fumed – she said she thought Smurfberries, which is rated ages four-plus, “preyed on children” – other parents must surely be able to relate.

As Time.com notes, it’s fine to get your children familiarized with technology, but with the way Apple charges customers (where a credit card is kept on file, thus not necessarily required to be entered every time a purchase is made) the system may lend itself to unwitting abuse.

Now, here’s where the detractors say, “Well, of course, you idiots. You gave your iPhone to a four-year-old without changing the settings so they couldn’t buy anything under your account. A huge charge is bound to happen.”

But should it? Do you think the FTC should step in to change how in-game charges on children’s apps are marketed and levied?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...