As of late, this writer has seen a trend among the toddlers and young children she finds herself around; most of them are better at handling an iPhone or iPad than many adults. This is certainly not undue, at least partially, to the corresponding trend of parents loaning their tech goodies to their children so as to keep them entertained in restaurants, cars, stores, and other places that may prove boring for even the most well-behaved children. The way that the new generation is becoming so immersed in new technology, so much so that it is almost something natural, is a pretty incredible thing, but does not come without its drawbacks. Such as, oh, finding out that little Timmy spent $100 on snacks for his virtual pet dragon.
Come to find out, stories such as that hypothetical example are not uncommon, and the parents of little Timmy and other children like him are not at all pleased. The obvious question that comes to mind is how, exactly, the children are able to make these purchases in the first place. After all, most six-year-olds aren't running around with credit cards. The answer lies in some rather shady trickery; children download free apps and games to their parents devices, and then go to buy power-ups, snacks, jewels, or coins for their respective games. A box will pop up, asking for a password, and children hand the device to their parents so that they can key it in. Afterwards, a 15 minute window is opened, where children have free reign to download and purchase goodies without any need of their parent's consent or unwitting help.
What those children and parents didn't know, though, was that by typing in their password, they were allowing the app to charge real money for virtual tokens. When bills showed up at the end of the month, parents were enraged, claiming that they had not been told of the charges and that they shouldn't be expected to pay for goods they were never told they purchased. And those purchases certainly add up; one parent reported that her daughter had spent over $2,000 on "Pet Tap Hotel," and others claimed to have lost over $500 on games like "Dragon Story" and "Tiny Zoo." Enraged, parents took to complaining and making claims against Apple, looking to get their money back.
Today, Apple reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, which will include up to $32.5 million in refunds to jilted parents. Apple has agreed to provide full refunds to those effected by their children's unwitting spending sprees, and has sent emails to people that it believes may have been effected in such a way. People who suspect that they may have lost money due to such circumstances are also encouraged to email Apple, if they have not received any word from the company.
FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez said on the topic, "This settlement is a victory for consumers harmed by Apple's unfair billing, and a signal to the business community: whether you're doing business in the mobile arena or the mall down the street, fundamental consumer protections apply. You cannot charge consumers for purchases they did not authorize." Apple also released a statement, simply stating, "Today's agreement with the FTC extends our existing refund program for in-app purchases which may have been made without a parent's permission."
Apple also claimed that it already had programs in place to refund parents who found that their children had amounted charges without their permission, but that it would rather agree to the FTC's conditions than draw out a long, nasty court battle over the topic. Either way, it seems like wronged parents will be getting their money back, and will probably be keeping a closer eye on their children's app usage in the future, too.
Image via Apple's website.