Would you give your eight year old a credit card? Of course not. But that is what in essence has happened to many parents who allowed their children to play “free” game apps online, only to discover the following month that they had been billed hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
In a recent blog by ctwatchdog.com, “C.W. of Simsbury said he was stunned in March when he discovered that his eight year old son ran up more than $7,600 in four days playing games, free games like Dragonvale and Tiny Tower – games that encourage children to use real money to purchase virtual objects to make the games more fun.”
Fun was not the word that C.W. used when he complained to his credit card company, who subsequently deleted the charges and refused to pay the app developer. He was lucky, but many other parents were not. Parents from as far away as Australia have felt the sting of these unauthorized charges. What many parents do not realize is that many of these "free games" have been designed to hook the child into playing the game, only to create anxiety for the child which can only be relieved by clicking on links that authorize payment. Furthermore, the language used online to elicit payment is frequently confusing or even misleading.
In a televised interview produced by the Australian Broadcast Corporation, Elise Davidson from the consumer group ACCAN states that the wording on some games is confusing. “It’s not really clear that you are spending real money.”
Worst of all, instead of insisting on more stringent rules, including default parental consent in order to make a purchase, the interview goes on to explain that the companies who profit from these games, including Apple which owns iTunes, put the onus back on the parents' shoulders. Meanwhile, app developers are free to exploit the psychological vulnerabilities inherent in youngsters.
Mark Textor, MD, explains it this way: “They're games, yes, but they're seen to be addictive games which are monetized, and those three together spell, well, this is gambling for infants.”
And this is one game that parents are not likely to win, especially when companies like Apple have designed all their devices to work using the same password. Since Apple introduced in-app purchasing, developers have seen a quantum leap in profitability. Consumers on the other hand have been seeing red, since this system has led to a blank check purchasing mechanism that puts a parent at risk of their children making any number of purchases using everything from iPhones, to iPads, iPods and even Apple TV. And while Apple says that parents can enable restrictions on their devices to prevent access to specific features, for many this is seen as too little too late.
If you are a parent who wants to avoid getting gamed, go to this blog on iappkids.com to learn how to disable in-app purchases and avoid sticker shock the next time your credit card bill arrives.
Carl Weiss is president of W Squared Media Group and Jacksonville Video Production. He can also be heard live every week at 4pm Eastern on Blog Talk Radio.