Guiding consumers since 2009

Is your child spending your money on online games?

By Staff Writer
Most children are well equipped with the latest technology, and thus have an abundance of apps and games at their fingertips. This, however, often results in massive bills at the end of the month for in-app purchases.
 
Many games are labelled as ‘free’, which is true in terms of download costs. However, updating the game, adding extras, or rising up a level could cost money.
 
For example, Tiny Zoo, a game for iPads and iPhones is free to download, but every week the app is updated, and has different animals, colours, tokens, and small zoo-extras to buy. One such animal is the Cash Cow, which costs $50 (R562.84). The total take from the first day of Cash Cow sales amounted to about $50,000 (R56 2839.96), reported the Wall Street Journal.
 
This has brought about some controversy, with multiple court cases against Google, Amazon and even Apple starting earlier this year from disgruntled parents who had to foot the bill for in-app purchases their children made.
 
“They are children, and are very easily manipulated and much more naïve, so they do not realise what they are doing has repercussions, and so targeting them is easier. So often parents end up with R2000 or R5000 or whatever it may be at the end of the month on their Google Play Store bill without even realising it,” said Pevan Reddy, the director of Kagiso Interactive South Africa, a mobile app development agency.
 
Reddy believes that the blame doesn’t lie with only one party though: “It is either going to be the platform owners, who basically don’t care, then it could be the developers who are trying to scam people out of their money, or you are going to have parents who just don’t know. So, responsibility around these issues actually lies with everybody,” said Reddy.
 
Security measures
 
“It is a horrible thing when a parent gets a bill for a game, which they initially thought was a simplistic game, and then they end up paying for virtual credit. So, I think developers need to be more cautious and need to put in a secondary layer of security which asks for a secondary password,” said Reddy.
 
Often times, though, in the description of the game it will highlight if there is content for sale, but many times parents do not read the descriptions or play the games to know this.
 
The best way to stop children from making unwanted in-app purchases, and thus raking up the bills, is to simply password protect the purchase section in the app world. This way, whenever a child wants to make an in-app purchase, they would need to have a password to do so.
 
Reddy also suggests that parents do not link their credit cards up to play devices, regardless if children will be playing on them or not: “What happens is, when a credit card is linked to your Google Play account or your Apple iTunes account, it is very easy for anybody to make purchases from there. If your card is linked up then the payment is going to go through,” said Reddy.
 
Refunds
 
Last month Google agreed to pay at least $19 million (R213 million) in refunds to consumers who’s children had made in-app purchases.
 
In an attempt to stop the massive amount of money spent on in-app purchases, Google said they would stop calling games with in-app purchases ‘free’. The company has not however specified when this change would be made.
 
Reddy said that they try to get their clients as much as possible to make sure all content of the games are free, but the client’s number one priority is to make a profit, especially with in-app purchases.
 
In-app purchases generate a lot of money for developers and the platform owners. The best way to ensure money is not taken from a credit card is to not link it to the play store account. Also, make sure all passwords are kept safe.

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