Parents beware of micro-transactions: iPad app game charges add up!

Across the country, parents are shocked to find that their kids have unknowingly been racking up charges on their free IPhone and iPad app games.

From The Associated Press:

” ‘The Smurfs’ Village,’  a game for the iPhone and other Apple gadgets, was released a month ago and quickly became the highest-grossing application in the iTunes store. Yet it’s free to download.”

“So where does the money come from? Kelly Rummelhart of Gridley, Calif., has part of the answer. Her 4-year-old son was using her iPad to play the game and racked up $66.88 in charges on her credit card without knowing what he was doing.”

“Rummelhart had no idea that it was possible to buy things — buy them with real money — inside the game. In this case, her son bought one bushel and 11 buckets of “Smurfberries,” tokens that speed up gameplay.”

” ‘Really, my biggest concern was them scratching the screen. Never in my wildest dreams did I think they would be charging things on it,’ the 36-year-old mother said.”

“She counts herself lucky that her son didn’t start tapping on another purchase button, like the ‘wheelbarrow’ of Smurfberries for $59.99.”

“Rummelhart joins a number of parents who have been horrified by purchases of Smurfberries and other virtual items in top App Store games. The 17 highest-rated comments on “The Smurfs’ Village” in the App Store all complain about the high cost of the Smurfberries, and two commenters call it a ’scam.’ ”

“Apple introduced “in-app purchases” last year, letting developers use the iTunes billing system to sell items and add-ons in their games and applications.”

“This year, developers have started to use the system in earnest as the main revenue stream for many games. Of the 10 highest-grossing apps in the App Store, six are games that are free to download but allow in-app purchases. Four of those are easy, child-friendly games. Two of them, “Tap Zoo” and “Bakery Story,” have buttons for in-app purchases of $100 in just two taps.”

So this is how the charges end up on the bill:

“Usually, the purchases require the owner of the device to enter his or her iTunes password. But there is no password challenge if the owner has entered the password in the last 15 minutes for any reason. That means that if a user enters the password for a purchase or a free app upgrade, then hands the phone or iPad over to a kid, the child will not be stopped by a password prompt.”

“Capcom and other game publishers have no control over the 15-minute password-free period, which is set by Apple.”

“Apple defends its system. Spokeswoman Trudy Muller says the password system is adequate and points out that parents can restrict in-app purchases. The parents contacted for the story received refunds from Apple after complaining, and praised the company’s responsiveness.”

This is not a new story just a slightly different technology on the iPad allowing kids to have access to your credit cards. (Parents would leave credit cards numbers in their computer for quick online purchases in the past and then kids would end up charging things.)

We have a friend in the video game industry who explained to us once that “micro-transactions’ are the future of making money in video games. People don’t think much about forking over $2 or $5 or $10 for extra pieces, extra power, extra stuff in a game – but all that adds up for the game makers.

A few years ago Club Penguin was the in-game with micro-transactions. Oh they can play for free, but to get the cool stuff for their igloos and their penguins they need a little bit of money, oh and then a little bit more.

Even adults fall prey to the micro-transaction. Michael kept buying stuff through the X-Box for his games. And my brother does it too.

The other day my 7-year-old (who reads quite well) told me that the Lego site was letting you design your own Lego creation online and then they were sending it to you for FREE! Well of course I knew that wasn’t true. When I finally sat down to look at it with him, he had designed 25 different sets and had it all in his shopping cart ready to ship! Thank goodness I don’t keep my credit card number in the computer because he also had a charge of more than $5,000!!! for the Lego creations. But he was right about the FREE part – the shipping was free. I guess so if we spend $5,000. The shipping part was right there up front and obvious and said FREE and that’s all he kept seeing.

Parents: Are you aware of micro-transactions? Are you aware of the iPad, iPhone 15-minute password save that would let your child charge? Do you leave your credit card number in the computer for easy online purchases? Have you had a problem with unexpected game charges from kids? Will you explain micro-transactions to your kids?

39 comments Add your comment

ABC

December 9th, 2010
12:08 pm

I was going to download that Smurfs app for my iPhone, but when I read in the description that it allows in-app purchasing using real money, I decided against it. Parents need to read the fine print when it comes to any purchases, but especially when their kids are involved.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

December 9th, 2010
12:19 pm

Well it’s real tricky with that 15-minute lapse where your password is still good — ABC all those online games like Club Penguin and Pixie Hollow have similar features — the kids need to understand how they companies make money so they don’t inadvertently buy!

[...] Parents beware of micro-transactions: iPad app game charges add up!Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Across the country, parents are shocked to find that their kids have unknowingly been racking up charges on their free IPhone and iPad app games. …Kids Go On Expensive Buying Sprees In IPhone GamesNPRall 266 news articles » [...]

[...] Parents beware of micro-transactions: iPad app game charges add up!Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Across the country, parents are shocked to find that their kids have unknowingly been racking up charges on their free IPhone and iPad app games. …Kids Go On Expensive Buying Sprees In IPhone GamesNPRall 272 news articles » [...]

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Photius

December 9th, 2010
12:52 pm

Problem – Solution: Don’t buy your kid the iPad or the iPhone. A regular cell phone is just fine for a teenager and why on earth would you buy a child the iPad???

ABC

December 9th, 2010
12:54 pm

My kid does Webkinz World and I’ve never seen the ability to purchase there, but with Club Penguin and Pixie Hollow or whatever, how about either not letting your child use them unless they are able to understand the ramifications of hitting certain buttons, or looking for an option to turn off in-app purchase. Really, it comes down to parents keeping tabs on what their kids are doing, especially in the online world.

[...] Parents beware of micro-transactions: iPad app game charges add up!Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Across the country, parents are shocked to find that their kids have unknowingly been racking up charges on their free IPhone and iPad app games. …Kids Go On Expensive Buying Sprees In IPhone GamesNPRRuh-roh: Kids Go on in-app Buying SpreesCult of Mac [...]

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

December 9th, 2010
1:09 pm

on the big PC you have to have a credit card number which mine will never get!!! they can also work on the site to “buy” the extra nice stuff so mine can work for it.

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[...] Parents beware of micro-transactions: iPad app game charges add up!Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Across the country, parents are shocked to find that their kids have unknowingly been racking up charges on their free IPhone and iPad app games. …Kids Go On Expensive Buying Sprees In IPhone GamesNPRall 297 news articles » [...]

JJ

December 9th, 2010
1:31 pm

Sending the kids outside to play doesn’t cost a thing. Credit card not required. And guess what, the return on your investment is awesome!!!!

Instead of yet another video game, why not go to the park? Why not get up a game of Kick the Can, or kick ball, or some other OUTDOOR activity…….I guarantee if some other kids see your kids outside, they will come out too. Fresh air and sunshine are great for kids…..and using their imaginations is another benefit…….

Step away from the electronics. I don’t care how cold it is outside, get out of the house. Growing up in Colorado it was usually in the 20’s or 30’s during winter, but guess what, we were out playing.

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Kate

December 9th, 2010
2:00 pm

My children do NOT have an iphone or ipad of their own, but I do occasionally allow them to play with mine. My daughter has inadvertently racked up some charges as a result. Fortunately, they were all very small amounts, and we have since changed the settings so that in-app purchases are no longer allowed, but there is no question in my mind that there is something underhanded going on here. Some of the highest grossing apps are free games. How can that be? It’s due entirely to in-app purchases. A lot of these games are virtually unplayable without those in-app purchases and it is extremely easy, even for an adult, to purchase something without even realizing that it costs real money. Not coincidently, many of these games are designed to appeal to kids. Parents see what looks like a harmless, free kid friendly app, download it (usually takes about a minute), hand the kid the iphone or ipad so they can check out the new game, and the kid, due to that 15 minute loophole, unwittingly ends up charging up a fortune on their parent’s itunes account. The Smurfs app is only one of many and this something that people have been complaining about for some time now, especially since, at first, the general public was not aware of that 15 minute loophole on itunes. I’m glad to hear that Apple is refunding some of these purchases, but that was not the case originally. Forunately, it is not difficult to change the settings on both the iphone and ipad so that in-app purchases are not allowed.

Lady Strange

December 9th, 2010
2:05 pm

I let my son play Angry Birds but it’s free and he’s too young to even play correctly. He just likes the sling shot the birds around. Harmless fun for a few minutes, but that’s all he’s allowed to play.

Expecially since by the time I get home at night, it’s too dark to play outside. Hopefully this weekend we can get to the park and play.

HB

December 9th, 2010
2:26 pm

This is really shocking to me. Smartphones and tablets are 2-way communication devices, be that through phone calls, email, SMS, websites, or apps. I’m stunned to read that parents would download an app and turn it over immediately to their kid to explore without playing it themselves a few times first to see what’s in it (in-app purchases? ads that can be clicked? info/location requests?). Even with doing that, I’d have a hard time handing over a $500+ iPad to a 4-year-old.

Betty

December 9th, 2010
2:30 pm

This is one of these things that irritates me to no end. I guess since we’re not that into electronics at my home, we’re also not too familiar with any of these popular games but everytime one my kids come home from school or a playdate wanting to pull up a site they just learned about on the computer that they think is free, there always seems to be a cost associated with it. I think it’s underhanded for the companies to be marketing it this way to kids. They ought to state their costs upfront and let the parents decide if they want to buy into it or not.

TinaTeach

December 9th, 2010
2:57 pm

Okay, I’m taking a deep breath here. My husband bought an I-pad for our one year old! When I found out I blew the roof off! He claimed it was for me too but every single app he loaded on it is for little kids. I just looked slack jawed at him for the longest time. I’ve taken all but about 3 apps off of it and the ones that are left are like flip book apps. I’m still having a hard time believing my husband did this.

JJ

December 9th, 2010
3:07 pm

Phil

December 9th, 2010
3:22 pm

This is a prime example of why parents need to quit using electronics as babysitters. You just do not turn over an electronic communication device over to a kid and assume that it is just harmless fun. Electronics and computers can do much to stimulate the mind and imagination if they are used responsibly. i agree that kids should get some outdoor time but each in moderation.

dd

December 9th, 2010
3:22 pm

no kiddin JJ…some people are lacking common sense these days huh?

JASon

December 9th, 2010
3:35 pm

“unlikely to deter kids who don’t understand money.”

I guess parents are allowing their kids to do everything these days. I suppose that is why America has become a huge dump. No one knows anything, there’s crime everywhere, and our government is running around with their heads up their rear ends. It all begins with parenting.

Photius

December 9th, 2010
3:43 pm

How about give the kid a stick and send him in the backyard – hours of entertainment. Or better yet, actually allow your children to become bored…. then they might be forced to think and figure out something to do for entertainment – like pick up a stick and dig holes, hit a tree, throw it, use imagination….. helicopter parents won’t allow it because my goodness, the parents would have to then get outside too and get off the computer in order to watch over Junior. Then if Mom and Dad are outside spending time with their kid they are on their cell phone checking messages, placing calls…. checking Facebook….

motherjanegoose

December 9th, 2010
3:52 pm

@ JJ…fyi…some schools here in Gwinnett County Ga do not send kids out to the playground if it is below 40 degrees as parents do not dress them warmly and they complain. I am not making this up! Tiger, are you reading this?

I have to laugh at this since it would make for a VERY long winter in other states and the germs floating around the classroom with no fresh air…..YUCK!

As you might imagine…I have none of these apps on my new cell phone and do not want them either….LOL.

HB…do not be stunned….many parents will do anything to get their kids out of their hair or even get them to stop whining….this is happening everywhere! Is it any different to hand a $500 iPad to a four year old or a $20,000 car to a 16 year old…not so much to me!

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justmy2cents

December 9th, 2010
6:12 pm

Cobb doesn’t send students out in temps lower than 40 degrees either. Parents don’t make sure the kids are dressed warmly enough before they leave for school.

kids on an iPad….wow; I’m with JJ on this one.

catlady

December 9th, 2010
6:58 pm

How about this: PARENTS, SPEND TIME WITH YOUR CHILDREN. MONITOR THEIR ELECTRONICS USE. EXPECT THEM TO OCCUPY THEIR OWN TIME IN ACTIVITIES THAT REQUIRE NOTHING WITH ELECTRICITY OR BATTERIES.

On the 40 degree rule: Horsefeathers! I have always taken my students out unless it is raining, even if only for 5 minutes in the bitterest weather. Parents who care about their children have them dress appropriately. If the parents do not act as adults, then the children will have to act as their own caretakers. Luckily when I first started teaching my principal was from South Dakota. He knew it was unhealthy to stay inside all day long.

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irisheyes

December 11th, 2010
10:16 pm

That’s how these companies make their money. We have the free game Wizard101 downloaded on our computer, but to get to all of the interesting places in the game, you have to have crowns. Of course, crowns cost real money. My kids are always begging me to buy crowns with the reasoning, “It’s only $5!” Thankfully, I have to enter my card number AND a parent password for the transaction, so they’re out of luck. I delight in being a mean mom. They can just keep playing the free game.

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