Parents whose children purchased in-app items using iPhone and other Apple devices without parental consent will see monetary relief. Apple has agreed to pay at least $32.5 million to consumers as part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. This settlement is in addition to the one reached in 2013 for $100 million as part of the class action against Apple for the same in-app purchasing problems, in which partial refunds as iTunes credits were given to some consumers.
The latest settlement with the FTC guarantees full refunds to consumers. Apple has also agreed to make changes to the way in-app purchases are made by March 31. It must modify billing practices by obtaining informed consent prior to billing in-app charges. Consumers also must have the ability to withdraw that consent at any time.
The settlements were brought about because children made unauthorized purchases while playing apps, such as “Dragon Story,” “Tiny Zoo Friends” and “Tap Pet Hotel.” Often the child would hand the device over for a parent to enter a password. However, the password screen would not indicate that a purchase was being made. Also, the default setting on Apple devices made the in-app purchases open for 15 minutes with no password required. Parents reported hundreds, in some cases thousands, of dollars in unauthorized charges for in-app purchases.
If your children are playing an app on a mobile device, the Better Business Bureau offers the following advice:
• Research the app before downloading. Do the description and user reviews indicate in-app purchases? Is the age rating appropriate for your child? What do outside reviewers say about the app?
• Play the app with your child. You can see if and when the app prompts for in-app purchases. You can also discuss how in-app purchases of virtual items for the game cost real money.
• Consider enabling in-app restrictions on your phone. For Apple devices, you can restrict in-app purchases and turn off the 15-minute window by going to Settings, then General, and then Restrictions.
• Consider turning off your Wi-Fi and data services. If your device cannot connect to the internet, then your child cannot make in-app purchases, connect to social media through the app or have personal information collected.
Erin T. Dodge, BBB editor