Apple facing class action suit over children's app bills

Once upon a time, you would go to a store, pay for a game on a disc in a box, and take it home to install it on your computer. These days, you can still do that if you really want to, of course, but with the advent of mobile gaming and digital downloads, the way that many of us discover, purchase and use software and play games has changed considerably, compared with times gone by.

Now, we can pick up the latest games almost instantly on our phones; some of the best and most enjoyable titles are often available free of charge, supported by ads; and, even once you’ve got the game, it’s possible to expand its potential through in-app purchases that can extend gameplay and introduce fun new features. But not everyone is celebrating these developments.

A group of parents in the United States believes that Apple has failed in its responsibility to impose proper restrictions on in-app purchases for children, accusing the company of exploiting the addictive nature of games designed to appeal to kids, and making it all too easy for them to purchase add-on items, without parental authorisation. One example cited is that of the game ‘Smurfs Village’, which invites players to purchase additional ‘smurfberries’.  

In the Apple ecosystem, in-app purchases are billed to the credit card and iTunes account associated with the device, and a series of incidents in America and the United Kingdom have seen parents’ accounts accumulating hundreds of dollars in charges from such purchases. Now, The Telegraph reports that a US federal judge has granted permission to the group of parents to proceed with a class action suit against Apple, having rejected the company's petition for the case to be dismissed.

Apple had requested that the judge consider the controls and restrictions that currently exist in iOS, which enable parents to limit in-app purchases. The parents contended that these controls have only recently been improved, and that they were previously inadequate.

The court filing by the parents noted that the iTunes App Store is filled with games and other apps that clearly and unambiguously target children. “Many such games are designed to induce purchases,” they claim. “These games are highly addictive, designed deliberately to be so, and tend to compel children playing them to purchase large quantities of game currency, amounting to as much as $100 per purchase, or more.”

As the class suit has just been filed, this is of course just the beginning of the process; it’ll be a while longer before we find out which side gets its happy ending.  

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I bet most of you throwing comments about parents not educating or keeping their attention to their kids do not actually have kids (yet).
I agree with them putting pressure on Apple to change things and to be honest I have seen many games that my daughter plays that have the in-app store designed i such a way that a kid cannot tell if its a "buy with real money" or "buy with game money". They have blurred that line to make easy cash, lets be honest.
In-app purchases suck, heck go and try the app "Papers" and you will see what I mean.

Also somewhere on youtube was EA CEO talking about how they could implement such things into their games and even went to describe how when a gamer has to reload his gun they will come up and say, sure $1 per magazine !!!

gogoli said,
I bet most of you throwing comments about parents not educating or keeping their attention to their kids do not actually have kids (yet).
I agree with them putting pressure on Apple to change things and to be honest I have seen many games that my daughter plays that have the in-app store designed i such a way that a kid cannot tell if its a "buy with real money" or "buy with game money". They have blurred that line to make easy cash, lets be honest.
In-app purchases suck, heck go and try the app "Papers" and you will see what I mean.

Also somewhere on youtube was EA CEO talking about how they could implement such things into their games and even went to describe how when a gamer has to reload his gun they will come up and say, sure $1 per magazine !!!


Here is a idea do not get your kids a smartphone than, is it that hard? Stop making excuses how we do not have kids and do not understand. It seems parents give in too easily this days or they just think having a kid is just like any furniture.

TsMkLg068426 said,


Here is a idea do not get your kids a smartphone than, is it that hard? Stop making excuses how we do not have kids and do not understand. It seems parents give in too easily this days or they just think having a kid is just like any furniture.

Haha, sure thing. Come back when your kids wrap you on their fingers.

Btw we have an iPad we all share. This sure was not Apple's intention however the developers are just being sneaky and greedy.

gogoli said,

Haha, sure thing. Come back when your kids wrap you on their fingers.

Btw we have an iPad we all share. This sure was not Apple's intention however the developers are just being sneaky and greedy.

Okay fine a iPad is it with a data plan or just a hot spot? You know you can lock it from kids downloading stuff right? Why give them the password the first place? You know you are a parent and you do not have to give in what your kids want right? Seems like you had kids at a very young age.

I bet most of you saying to take responsibility for your kids actions A) don't have kids and B) Clearly do not recall being a child.

Children have no concept of theft. If it's in their house it's theirs.

Also you have to remember that no matter how good a lock is it can always be gotten around. I still remember getting my 500 dollar overdraft from when my 12 year old stole my wifes credit card and spent 500 dollars on some stupid browser game. The best part was it was a replacement card. He took it out of the mailbox, activated it on the banks website, and made his purchases, then put it on the bottom of the bill pile.

Kids don't care they are evil.

NastySasquatch said,
I bet most of you saying to take responsibility for your kids actions A) don't have kids and B) Clearly do not recall being a child.

Children have no concept of theft. If it's in their house it's theirs.

Also you have to remember that no matter how good a lock is it can always be gotten around. I still remember getting my 500 dollar overdraft from when my 12 year old stole my wifes credit card and spent 500 dollars on some stupid browser game. The best part was it was a replacement card. He took it out of the mailbox, activated it on the banks website, and made his purchases, then put it on the bottom of the bill pile.

Kids don't care they are evil.

More reason why kids need a good whooping every now and then these days. If I had done that when I was 12, my dad would have knocked my teeth out and then some..

NastySasquatch said,
I bet most of you saying to take responsibility for your kids actions A) don't have kids and B) Clearly do not recall being a child.

Children have no concept of theft. If it's in their house it's theirs.

Also you have to remember that no matter how good a lock is it can always be gotten around. I still remember getting my 500 dollar overdraft from when my 12 year old stole my wifes credit card and spent 500 dollars on some stupid browser game. The best part was it was a replacement card. He took it out of the mailbox, activated it on the banks website, and made his purchases, then put it on the bottom of the bill pile.

Kids don't care they are evil.


Uhm.... How about not giving them directly or indirectly control over your money?
I mean, handing them the passwords or letting their iTunes ID run on your credit card seems massively stupid to do, no?

recursive said,

More reason why kids need a good whooping every now and then these days. If I had done that when I was 12, my dad would have knocked my teeth out and then some..


The usual "disciplining" fan again. *sigh*

Here, take my usual "outrage" (today my outrage is sold out to other stuff, but rest assured I disagree heavily.)

GS:mac

Glassed Silver said,

Uhm.... How about not giving them directly or indirectly control over your money?
I mean, handing them the passwords or letting their iTunes ID run on your credit card seems massively stupid to do, no?


The usual "disciplining" fan again. *sigh*

Here, take my usual "outrage" (today my outrage is sold out to other stuff, but rest assured I disagree heavily.)

GS:mac

To each his own I guess. Time will tell how they turn out.

Man.. that is the problem with our society now. 'till when parents are accept that it is their fault to monitor and control their kids.

Glassed Silver said,
If I was the judge, I'd throw the suers out of court. lol

This case has no grounds to stand on from a common sense point of view.

GS:mac

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years.
No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago
lost in bureaucratic red tape.
He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:

- Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
- Why the early bird gets the worm;
- Life isn't always fair;
- and maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple , sound financial policies (don't spend more
than you earn)
and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but
overbearing regulations were set in place.
Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a
schoolmate;
teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher
fired for reprimanding an unruly student.
Only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job
that they
themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent
to administer sun-lotion
or an aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student
became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a
burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue
you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to
realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. Shejn
spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in Death, by his parents, Truth and Trust, by his
wife, Discretion,
by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son, reason.

He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers;
I know my rights
I want it now
Someone else is to blame
I'm a Victim

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.
If you still remember him, pass this on. If not join the majority and do
nothing.

duddit2 said,

[...]

Some of this I absolutely agree with, some of it is utter BS.

Then again, the way you wrote it alone makes me adore it lol.
Thanks for sharing!

GS:mac

It's always the same story... A kid does something the parents don't want so they blame everyone but themselves.

More abortion clinic in need and problem solved, stop being a lazy parents it is not that hard to tell your kids no and maybe you should not buy a iPhone for kids. Seriously what happened to blocking phones from connecting to online? This is one of the problems with smart phones you have no choice to have a data plan before you could block it.

It's called "turn off in-app purchases!!" Mine is always off!

Can't help it if the parents don't keep a tighter watch on their kids. Hell I barely let my nephew play with my ipad, and I have in-app purchases turned off.

Edited by warwagon, Apr 17 2012, 5:26pm :

Apple had requested that the judge consider the controls and restrictions that currently exist in iOS, which enable parents to limit in-app purchases. The parents contended that these controls have only recently been improved, and that they were previously inadequate.

Ugh. People's sense of entitlement these days sickens me. If a company identifies a problem and fixes it, as Apple has, you shouldn't sue them afterwards. In the future, Apple will have no incentive to fix these things before a lawsuit, since they're just going to end up in court again anyway. It's a terrible precedent.

Simon said,

Ugh. People's sense of entitlement these days sickens me. If a company identifies a problem and fixes it, as Apple has, you shouldn't sue them afterwards. In the future, Apple will have no incentive to fix these things before a lawsuit, since they're just going to end up in court again anyway. It's a terrible precedent.

Oops I stole your car and trashed it, but I shouldn't be sued because I bought you a new one.

_Heracles said,

Oops I stole your car and trashed it, but I shouldn't be sued because I bought you a new one.

Except stealing a car is actually against the law. There isn't a law against what Apple did - or what they didn't do. They fixed the issue once it came up as a real problem. You can't expect them to do anything more. It's impossible for anyone to think up every possible scenario that could cause a problem for customers.

_Heracles said,

Oops I stole your car and trashed it, but I shouldn't be sued because I bought you a new one.

How is that analogous to the case in point?

Simon said,

Except stealing a car is actually against the law. There isn't a law against what Apple did - or what they didn't do. They fixed the issue once it came up as a real problem. You can't expect them to do anything more. It's impossible for anyone to think up every possible scenario that could cause a problem for customers.

I'm not saying it's illegal (or legal), but there are a lot of laws regarding marketing towards children, and it's a pretty broad statement to just flat-out say "There isn't a a law".

It's exploitation, pure and simple. You can't possibly expect every parent in the world to be technically savvy, to know to remove credit card info from the iTunes account, and to setup parental controls. These same parents probably had no idea their children could charge items. Don't think Apple wasn't fully aware of this either. They keep 30% of developer profits, which means they make lots of money on BS purchases like refilling your virtual fish tank.

When parents purchase phones for their children, parental controls should be mandatory, setup in the Apple (or cellular) store at the time of purchase. More so, there should be a system in which children can make "requests" for purchases which their parents must approve.

I'm pretty sure parental controls are a part of the initial setup wizard on all iOS devices, so they are mandatory. You have to enable or disable them to use the product.

I agree that the system could *always* be better. And I think Apple should kick out the apps that are blatant about this.

But I don't think that Apple is responsible for other peoples ignorance and/or stupidity. I have a feeling that people falling "victim" to this are the same people that enter their Credit Card numbers on the phone when they receiving a phishing phone call that says their CC has been deactivated and they need to reactivate it by entering in all the information....or phishing emails that look like they are from a bank.

Elliott said,
The parents are retarded for giving their passwords to their kids.

Not really. Define exactly what a password is supposed to do? Generally, they're to secure a system from unauthorized use. If I hand an iPad to my hypothetical kid, I'm authorizing him to use it.. To most people, all a password is good for is authenticating you when you get to work.

greenwizard88 said,

Not really. Define exactly what a password is supposed to do? Generally, they're to secure a system from unauthorized use. If I hand an iPad to my hypothetical kid, I'm authorizing him to use it.. To most people, all a password is good for is authenticating you when you get to work.

There's a difference between the password to use the device, and the password to the parents' iTunes accounts. It's no different than parents handing over credit card numbers (and PIN numbers) for their kids to use.

greenwizard88 said,

Not really. Define exactly what a password is supposed to do? Generally, they're to secure a system from unauthorized use. If I hand an iPad to my hypothetical kid, I'm authorizing him to use it.. To most people, all a password is good for is authenticating you when you get to work.

Like Denis said, there's a difference between the device PIN and your iTunes password.

Denis W said,

There's a difference between the password to use the device, and the password to the parents' iTunes accounts. It's no different than parents handing over credit card numbers (and PIN numbers) for their kids to use.

But to a lot of people, a password is a password is a pain in the butt.

"Mommy, I can't play Words with Friends because I need to update it" and "Mommy I want to play the Smurffs but I need to spend $100 on smurffberries" both require the same response in order to do: The Apple/iTunes account password

greenwizard88 said,
But to a lot of people, a password is a password is a pain in the butt.

"Mommy, I can't play Words with Friends because I need to update it" and "Mommy I want to play the Smurffs but I need to spend $100 on smurffberries" both require the same response in order to do: The Apple/iTunes account password

Then remove the CC# and just use iTunes Gift Cards so that there is an upper limit to what can be charged and once that is gone, it is gone. There.

greenwizard88 said,
But to a lot of people, a password is a password is a pain in the butt.

So these people should be allowed to sue Apple because "a password is a pain in the butt"?

You keep bringing up these scenarios and I've already told you that there was a mechanism in place to restrict specific features. There are other responsible options also. What exactly is it that you want Apple to do to rectify this apparent issue?

greenwizard88 said,
But to a lot of people, a password is a password is a pain in the butt.

Then to those people, I say: You shouldn't be owning any plastic cards that require passwords. Security measures are there to prevent fraud, not excessive stupidity.

I forget if parental controls are part of the initial setup process... but perhaps it'll be easier to set the 'require password after each purchase' option to 'immediately' instead of the default 15 minutes if restrictions are on.

Edited by Denis W., Apr 18 2012, 3:18am :

My sisters little boy racked up a bill of about £90.. sometimes it just happens.. she isn't computer literate, she didn't know you could even purchase from within the app so certainly wouldnt bother with parental controls for something she didnt know was there... she's not exactly blaming Apple though, she paid the bill and got me to secure it, she knows it was her own fault for not reading apps properly.

1. An Apple account does not need a Credit Card number associated with it. A child can do everything on their iOS device using iTunes gift cards. My step-daughter does this with her iPod Touch.

2. A password prompt is always displayed to verify purchases. If a parent gives their child the password to this, then who's fault is that exactly?

3. If all of that isn't enough, "Restrictions" can be enabled on an iOS device to disable installing apps and in-app purchasing. You can also set the "rating" allowed for apps.

just create the itunes account and then delete the credit card info. dont give the itunes account password to your kid = problem solved.

Even if your child could circumvent all the above and still buy stuff, just smack them real good. It worked for our grandparents, our parents and for us, why would not work with them?

Though I have had my fill of people blaming corporations for their failure to parent their own children, I do feel it should be easy and possible to "gift" apps and games to any of the various smartphones. This goes for iOS to Android to WP7. Currently if your kid wants a game or an app, you would need to link it to a card (Which is now in there) and pay for the item. When you should be able to log into your own account and gift an app or game to another phone number. Perfectly reasonable and problem solved.

On iOS you do not need a link to any CC and there does not need to be a CC on file in order to create an Apple ID. All that is needed is an iTunes Gift Card.

Shadrack said,
On iOS you do not need a link to any CC and there does not need to be a CC on file in order to create an Apple ID. All that is needed is an iTunes Gift Card.

Not true. You just download a free app, create a new account and select "no payment option" (or something like that).

Drossel said,

Not true. You just download a free app, create a new account and select "no payment option" (or something like that).

IIRC when signing up for an Apple ID it prompts you for either a valid CC# or an iTunes Gift Cert number... I don't recall seeing a "no payment option".

Or just be a decent parent and pay interest in what your kids are up to and don't let them do whatever they like ...

This is in now way Apple's fault (although I do agree with the comment above regarding accounts with no CC card).

As others have said, lazy parenting and a blame culture ...

greenwizard88 said,
Lazy parenting =/= Helicopter parenting. What you're suggesting would mean that a parent would have to hover over their kid 24/7.

No, the solution is simple - don't link a credit card with the iTunes account.

greenwizard88 said,
What you're suggesting would mean that a parent would have to hover over their kid 24/7.

They could do that, or they could be sensible and set up the various parental controls already in place if they're going to hand their kid a device that potentially holds debit/credit card information amongst other things.

Frankly, I don't know why you'd give your iTunes Store password to a child who is too young to fully grasp the concept of money.

Edited by Manish, Apr 17 2012, 5:41pm :

Manish said,

They could do that, or they could be sensible and set up the various parental controls already in place if they're going to hand their kid a device that potentially holds debit/credit card information amongst other things.

I think the whole point of this lawsuit is because those parental controls weren't in place.

greenwizard88 said,

I think the whole point of this lawsuit is because those parental controls weren't in place.

Most of those controls were already available. As far as I'm aware, the only post-lawsuit change that Apple made was getting in-app purchases to always ask for a password (in iOS 4.3) rather than having a 15-minute window in which the password was only required once. Parents were still able to not give their iTunes Store passwords and/or block in-app purchases specifically.

I agree with this lawsuit actually. It took me sometime to work out how to create a iTunes account without credit card information for my sister. Apple don't make this particularly easy to find and create without searching the web.

Easy fix: make it easy to sign up for an iTunes account without credit card information.

ShMaunder said,
I agree with this lawsuit actually. It took me sometime to work out how to create a iTunes account without credit card information for my sister. Apple don't make this particularly easy to find and create without searching the web.

Easy fix: make it easy to sign up for an iTunes account without credit card information.

You can do it right now:

Before: http://i.imgur.com/vOAS8.png
After: http://i.imgur.com/FYrf8.png

Explain how I can do it but it was next to impossible for you to do it? even if you had to use a credit card to sign up there was nothing stopping you from removing it and doing as I did in the above screenshots.

AtriusNY said,
You just don't give the password of the iTunes account. Problem solved.

Or set the device to restrict in-app purchases.

AtriusNY said,
You just don't give the password of the iTunes account. Problem solved.

The issue here is, if someone puts in the Password, your iPhone won't require it again for any purchases made shortly afterwards, so if Mummy or Daddy buys a song or an app, plays with it for a few minutes, and then gives the phone to the kid, he can buy to his hearts content and no password will be required.

Mr Nom Nom's said,

Explain how I can do it but it was next to impossible for you to do it? even if you had to use a credit card to sign up there was nothing stopping you from removing it and doing as I did in the above screenshots.

Impossible? No, I said I had to search the web (i.e. use Apple's KB for the correct method).

When I last tried it (going back a few years), there were several ways to create an iTunes account however, only one of these ways could be used to create an account without credit card information.

IMHO, all new iTunes sign ups shouldn't ask for credit card information. It should only appear during the first purchase.

Mr Nom Nom's said,

... Explain how I can do it but it was next to impossible for you to do it? even if you had to use a credit card to sign up there was nothing stopping you from removing it and doing as I did in the above screenshots.

This must be a recent change. I don't remember it being that easy.

Maybe its the parents who failed in their responsibility instead of Apple.

Also maybe these "children" shouldn't have these devices to begin with.
Also when did parents stop telling their kids NO, or Don't do this.

There is no such thing as parent responsibility in the modern world. Parents are afraid to say "No" and fail to moderate their children's behavior.

Everything is someone else's fault.

The Laughing Man said,
Maybe its the parents who failed in their responsibility instead of Apple.

I think the point is is that children's games shouldn't be 'free-to-play' like this. If you want to make a good children's game, charge $5 for it and let the kids go wild.

Seriously, the only other 'games' that work like this are carnival games. [And of course straight up gambling.]

EDIT: Apple already restricts the content of all their other apps, they should simply require that ANY game marketed to children not have in-app purchases.

Voice of Buddy Christ said,
Maybe these parents shouldn't give their children their iTunes account passwords, or only connect gift cards instead of credit cards so there's a limit to available money.

The password defense would work if the password was "only" used for purchasing in-app items, but because it's linked to your iTunes account, it's possible that you need to know the password just to play a song.

Is a responsible parent supposed to tell little Timmy that he can't listen to "The Wheels on the Bus" because it could lead to $100's of purchases later on? No.

Further, there's actually a lot of FCC regulation that regulates how an advertiser can target children, as a young child may not understand the difference between Bart Simpson telling them to buy butterfingers, and the notion that buying butterfingers won't make Bart Simpson actually appear. It seems dumb to you or I, but to a 5-year-old, it's not.

With that in mind, it's easy to see how a popup asking for a password would just be entered and ignored by a kid. Heck, there's probably a lot of adults who, when asked for a password or to press okay/cancel, just press OK.

It's the equivalent of Best Buy building a store in a kids' house, letting him wander in, buy $100's of non-returnable goods, and then saying "He had cash, it was obviously given to him because he doesn't have a job, so his parents must be OK with it". It just doesn't work like that.

greenwizard88 said,

The password defense would work if the password was "only" used for purchasing in-app items, but because it's linked to your iTunes account, it's possible that you need to know the password just to play a song.

Have you used an iPhone? Since when do you need to enter a password to play a song? Even if you're referring to the lock screen passcode, the latter is different to the iTunes Store password (unless you set them to be the same). Furthermore, there was already an option under Restrictions to specifically block in-app purchases before this class action suit.

Poof said,

Apple ...should simply require that ANY game marketed to children not have in-app purchases.

That's an incredibly stupid idea/suggestion.

Manish said,

That's an incredibly stupid idea/suggestion.

Explain exactly how? If the publisher wants to provide the kid a better experience, then push an update to the game giving more features. If they want make more money off the child then push out {CRAPPY KIDS GAME} II/III/IV/V/VI/etc...

Publishers seem to find it very convenient to make a $3.99 game then charge for features that you'd typically expect to be included in your purchase. 'Oh, you mean you want more than just two levels? Spend only $2.99 today!'

Poof said,

Explain exactly how? If the publisher wants to provide the kid a better experience, then push an update to the game giving more features. If they want make more money off the child then push out {CRAPPY KIDS GAME} II/III/IV/V/VI/etc...

Publishers seem to find it very convenient to make a $3.99 game then charge for features that you'd typically expect to be included in your purchase. 'Oh, you mean you want more than just two levels? Spend only $2.99 today!'


This.
Also: Kill In-App Purchases completely except for a select few occasions when it's necessary or VERY intelligently solved.

I can't stand them, kill them with fire.

GS:mac

Manish said,

Have you used an iPhone? Since when do you need to enter a password to play a song? Even if you're referring to the lock screen passcode, the latter is different to the iTunes Store password (unless you set them to be the same). Furthermore, there was already an option under Restrictions to specifically block in-app purchases before this class action suit.

I need to enter a password occasionally while using iTunes, to purchase, authorize to play, etc... It's in no way limited to iOS devices. Heck, just checking an order status or updating an app from the MAS requires that same password.

greenwizard88 said,

I need to enter a password occasionally while using iTunes, to purchase, authorize to play, etc... It's in no way limited to iOS devices. Heck, just checking an order status or updating an app from the MAS requires that same password.

Erm, okay. I didn't really ask if you could use iTunes.

What I did ask was if you've used an iPhone. You brought up a scenario where "little Timmy" needed a password to play a song as you seem to believe that "because it's linked to your iTunes account, it's possible that you need to know the password just to play a song". Well, I'm telling you that you're wrong. You don't need the iTunes Store password to play a song on any iOS device. If you still feel the need to give "little Timmy" the password, like I said, you could block in-app purchases.

Additionally, if you're going to give "little Timmy" the password so that he can authorise his computer for the iTunes account and purchase songs via said account, then perhaps you should instill the concept of money first. Other than that, I have no idea why you started rambling on about the iTunes software asking for a password when it should.

I repeat - have you used an iPhone? For a substantial amount of time? If not, then quite simply you don't know what you're talking about, do you?