Washington Post follows a pretty common narrative of parents, kids turned loose with technology, and sticker shock when a bill for that comes in. News of outrageous phone bills from texting charges have been commonplace. But the latest furor is over in-app purchases, virtual goods that kids are buying from within iPhone, iPod, and iPad games.A story in yesterday's
The opening anecdote: 8-year-old Madison who spent $1,400 to decorate her mushroom home in the iPhone game Smurf's Village.
She didn't realize the Smurfberries she was buying were real purchases. "After all," writes reporter Cecilia Kang, "lots of children's games require virtual payments of pretend coins, treasure chests and gold to advance to levels."
Madison's mother says she thinks "the app preyed on children," pointing out that the Smurf game says it's for those age 4 and up.
Madison's story isn't the first, and her family's problems aren't unique. Indeed, these sorts of purchases have made kids' games like Smurfs' Village incredibly popular - and profitable. But parents (anyone, really, Smurf fans or not) balk at the $99 charge for a wagon of Smurfberries.
The New Economy of In-App Purchases
In-app purchases have been available in Apple's apps, and Google just introduced these for its Android phones and tablets as well. The Washington Post calls these purchases part of a "new economy." In October of last year, ReadWriteWeb's Sarah Perez reported that these purchases generate more revenue than do mobile ads.
But is this sort of thing coming at the cost of unsuspecting parents and children?
Smurf Village and other similar games have added warnings to their apps, reminding users that the virtual goods cost real money. And for its part, Apple says it tries to prevent episodes like Madison's by requiring a password when making in-app purchases. Parents can change the settings to restrict downloads and transactions as well.
Cult of Mac reports today that The Washington Post story has prompted U.S. Congressman Edward J. Markey to write a letter to the FTC, urging the commission to investigate in-app purchases.
In the meantime, parents who hand over their iTunes passwords to their kids would be wise to set the restrictions on their devices. For the iPhone, you can do so by going to General Settings, then to Restrictions, and click the "In-App Purchases" to "off," which will prevent that content from being purchased and downloaded.