For years, parents all over have used one of Apple’s mobile devices, whether it’s an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, as a means of both entertaining and educating their children. Never has it been easier to find a piece of family-friendly content when you’re on the move, and the App Store has provided millions of adults with quick access to learning games, coloring books, read-along content, and more.
Many of those games, books, shows, etc., have been available entirely for free. There’s been a dark side to that availability, however, as parents soon discovered that their children had rung up huge bills – sometimes over $100 – within minutes of having access to the device.
It’s easy to lay blame at the feet of the parents, who, some say, should keep a better eye on what their children are doing. According to the FCC, though, the real blame lies solely with Apple and its confusing and obfuscated billing practices.
For many users, tapping in their password is an easy and obvious thing to do when a child wants access to additional content in a game or book. Many of these applications sell content piecemeal, and for a few bucks here or there, families can unlock hours of additional entertainment.
What is not at all obvious, says the FTC, is the way Apple unlocks further in-app purchases: once a single in-app purchase is made, and a pasword entered, any further in-app purchases, for the following fifteen minutes, don’t require additional password entries.
Instead, they just require tapping yes to a pop-up confirmation, which many children are capable of doing regardless of if they understand what else is going on.
from the agency’s statement, FTC’s Chairwoman Edith Ramirez:
“This settlement is a victory for consumers harmed by Apple’s unfair billing, and a signal to the business community: whether you’re doing business in the mobile arena or the mall down the street, fundamental consumer protections apply. You cannot charge consumers for purchases they did not authorize.”
The compensation package comes after the FTC listened to “tens of thousands” of complaints from consumers burned by Apple’s lax authorization standards and to whom the iPhone manufacturer had denied refunds.
In one extreme case, a parent’s daughter rung up a stunning $2,600 in the “Tap Pet Hotel” app; other top offenders were reportedly “Tiny Zoo Friends” and “Dragon Story”.
Once finalized, Apple has 12 months to pay the $32.5 million back to affected consumers. The company is required to give notice of the settlement to any consumer charged for an in-app purchase, and include instructions on how to make a refund claim for unauthorized purchases made by their children.
In addition, Apple will be forced to change the way that account holders are notified of impended in-app purchases, including closing that 15-minute loophole.
The FTC’s recommendations will be open for public comment until February 14th, 2014, at which point the agency will vote on whether to make the order final (we’re betting on a yes).