Apple forced to cough up: But whose responsibility is it?

In-app purchases, love them or hate them. They’ve become controversial. Apple might have just realised this, and has now been forced to cough up $32.5m to parents whose kids made in-app purchases.

Apple was forced to pay after a US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a decision on a long-standing complaint, in which children purchased add-ons without parent consent.

Apple decided to settle the dispute instead of pursuing a “long legal fight”.

Parents argued:

“You cannot charge consumers for purchases they did not authorize.”

The FTC alleged that Apple failed to alert users, that entering their password would concur costs and also allow purchases without further authorisation for up to 15 minutes.

But whose responsibility is it to control children and their in-app purchases?

Apple has operated a system of requiring a password for purchases and in-app purchases since the app store launched. This hasn’t changed. Apple has been at the centre of this complaint, although it does not exclusively include them; Google has also been targeted through complaints.

Apple makes it clear that you will be buying items when downloading and browsing their app store, of course it maybe unknown at the time, that entering the password allows further purchases for up to 15 minutes – but that isn’t wholly where the problem lies. Parents who decide to allow their children full, uncontrolled and unlimited access to their devices, should possibly first consider removing bank cards/payment methods to avoid such problems or educating their children on responsible use of devices.

In a society where we are strongly set against state control, corporate dominance and put forward the importance of education –  it seems hypocritical that we ask for corporations to take responsibility where liberal good-judgement and education is presumed. When browsing the app stores, we accept the user terms and conditions, and generally we expect that users make purchases that are valid. However, if a parent fails to educate a child in regards to using a device safely and properly… Is it that companies/developers fault?

In the case of children using devices, some parents may hand devices over, without the proper education and control that should be involved. As, when educating children about e-safety, parents should take the time to explain to children about the issues with devices and ensure they aren’t full left at their own will.

Proper education, preparation and diligence would allow children to enjoy such apps – without the fear for parents of a surprise $1000 bill.

Nevertheless, corporations, business and industry need to realise the situations where a device maybe used. We can’t be watching out children 24/7. Industry must accommodate for this, hence placing protection between final purchases and bank cards. In the case of Apple, a simply on/off switch to disable the ’15 minute window’ that users are given before they have to renter their password may relieve some stress. Or a simple warning.

Collectively we must work on improving purchase methods and habits of children to not just prevent, but educate. The onus is as much on the companies, as it is on parents to properly educate. Apple is already implementing schemes to prevent further mistakes and developers need to learn about improper placement of ads/in-app purchases in games for children.  A vulnerable market. Developers know that children have a tendency to tap, mostly without hesitation – playing on such weaknesses could be seen as inappropriate.

Ultimately the topic of ‘responsibility’ for task will remain controversial – but maybe, just maybe; before we point fingers… We should think.


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