I’m on my way over to 5live to talk to Richard Bacon about Apple being sued over in-app purchases. Kids on both sides of the Atlantic have apparently been running up big bills on their parent’s iDevices through the purchase of additional features inside games.
Games for these devices are often free but once you’re playing you’re offered upgrades or in-game items like currency. Buying them requires just a password. If the kids have the password, they can buy, via the parent’s credit card attached to their iTunes account.
This throws up a number of issues: security, education, responsibility.
Starting with security, is it right that someone should be able to spend money so easily with just a password, especially if they are not otherwise proven to be the card holder?
Contrary to what the objecting parents are suggesting, I’d say the answer has to be ‘yes’. For the most part these purchases are small amounts, no bigger than buying a newspaper or a chocolate bar. They can be larger and they can mount up, but in most cases these purchases will be made by responsible adults from their own cash. Adding layers of security because of the edge cases of unauthorised use would diminish the user experience for the majority. It is this slick user experience that has created the legal market for content that is now displacing illegal downloads that used to be the norm.
For me this is much more an issue of education: the children concerned need to be educated about the value of money, and the parents need to ensure their own understanding of the technology they are placing in their child’s hands. I’d go so far as to say they have a responsibility to do so.
Because although a big bill for virtual currency might be a shock, there are many worse things an unsupervised child could be doing with an internet-connected device. I don’t want to sound preachy but from playing a game kids are only two clicks from the web, social networks, and all manner of content of which I don’t necessarily disapprove but that I wouldn’t want my children viewing.
That for me highlights the crux of this issue. The problem is not the technology providers making it easy to buy things. It is the parents failing to educate their children about what they should and shouldn’t do, and failing to supervise them to make sure they follow those rules.
What reinforces this point for me is an example from real life. I remember a kid from my school running up a bill in the hundreds of pounds on adult chat lines. No-one in that case blamed the telephone company…