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Posted at 11:53 AM ET, 03/10/2011

Apple changes purchases policy to protect kids on iPad, iPhone games

By Cecilia Kang

Apple said Thursday that it changed its policy for how purchases can be made within applications on the iPhone and iPad, an attempt to protect users, particularly children, from accidentally racking up iTunes charges.

The Cupertino company’s move affects users of its most recent operating system and comes amid growing concern by federal and state enforcement agencies that consumers, including children, were not adequately informed or aware that they were incurring charges on iTunes accounts because of a 15-minute period that allowed for purchases without a password.

Apple said its new device software, iOS 4.3, made available Wednesday, will come with a feature that requires a password when purchases are made within an application after it is downloaded.

Parents had complained to the The Post that in the 15-minute period after an app was downloaded, children were buying sometimes hundreds of dollars of purchases on games such as Smurfs’ Village and Tap Zoo — popular iTunes games that are also among the highest-grossing programs for in-app purchases.

“We are proud to have industry-leading parental controls with iOS,” said Trudy Muller, a spokeswoman for Apple. She said users have always been able to use parental control setting and restrictions of in-app purchases to protect their iTunes accounts from accidental charges. “With iOS 4.3, in addition to a password being required to purchase an app on the App Store, a reentry of your password is now required when making an in-app purchase.”

The Washington State Attorney General’s office had sent a letter to Apple last December after receiving complaints from consumers. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz told lawmakers he would review the practice. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) and other have called the practice deceitful marketing, and public interest groups question why $99 barrels for “snowflakes” and “Smurfberries” are in a children-focused game, when children may not understand that they are racking up real charges.

“This is a victory for consumers,” said Paula Selis, senior counsel for State Attorney General Rob McKenna. “Our attitude about enforcement is that we are most effective with positive change without litigating, and talk an issue through with a company to affect change.”

After charges are made through a password-protected prompt, Apple allows for users to conduct recurring charges within 15 minutes without having to reenter their password. The changes made this week by Apple protect users who were seeing recurring charges made after the download of an application.

The idea is that if a password is submitted to in-app purchases, the user is aware of the iTunes charges being made. Some users like the ability to quickly make multiple charges without the inconvenience of re-entering a password.

But some consumer protection experts say Apple’s move may not extinguish concerns by regulators and lawmakers. Linda Goldstein, chair of the advertising and marketing division at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips law firm, said the in-app purchases cut across many consumer protection issues: marketing to children and recurring charges to a “non-traditional billing device.”

Mobile phones, she said, have “essentially become the equivalent of credit cards in the hands of children.”

“When that happens and you have on top of that programs that inherently involved recurring charges, it’s a recipe for for high FTC scrutiny,” Goldstein said.

This post has been updated since it was published.

By Cecilia Kang  | March 10, 2011; 11:53 AM ET
Categories:  Apple, Consumers, FTC, Gaming, Kids Online  
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Comments

That's great because I have been hearing so many complaints from other parents. My kid is just 2 years old so we didn't have problem so far but we could have in the future:) I also recently visited a website giving away an IPad2 with top50 kids apps, that could be good money saver start too:) Here's the link for those want win an Ipad loaded with apps http://www.redtri.com/win-an-apple-ipad

Posted by: peterpan6685 | March 10, 2011 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Apple should receive credit for making this change but it should not have taken this long to do so. It seems unlikely that their entire application review structure overlooked this lucrative loophole and the change was not made until it was clear that protests did not simply go away. "Think differenter." I suggest, in Apple's own mangled syntax.

Posted by: wildcatherder | March 10, 2011 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Its good that Apple made this switch but parents should be responsible and know what their children are up to. This would be like blaming the credit card companies because you put your card down at the register and then looked the other way while your child put a lot of extra candy on the counter. Why is it everyone else is always to blame but not the parents?

Posted by: twentyniner | March 10, 2011 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Parents purchasing this junk for their kids should have sense enough to enter the password for purchases without giving it to the kid(s) and then sign off immediately.

I've no sympathy for such lack-wits.

Posted by: rmlwj1 | March 10, 2011 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Apple is never happy, always gotta be changing stuff aye aye aye

www.privacy-tools.cz.tc

Posted by: clermontpc | March 10, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

This is great news. But, I have to agree, it took too long.
Now, can my child get back his $29.99 for corn seed he bought within an app. It spent his gift card (birthday) money.

Posted by: m98cox | March 10, 2011 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Hey, m98cox, why the heck don't you just DISABLE IN APP PURCHASES?!? That's only been there from the beginning.

What are you going to do for an encore? Start your car, put it in gear, stick your kid behind the wheel, them blame the car maker for not including a PIN for the accelerator?

Posted by: eternalemperor | March 10, 2011 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Parents that give kids access to this device deserve some blame also. I heard of an 8 year old on the news buying some of these in app purchases. Don't let them touch an iphone or ipod.

Posted by: jerryva460 | March 10, 2011 6:21 PM | Report abuse

@jerryva460

Nonsense. My 7 year old uses my old iPod Touch. Guess what? I disabled Safaris, you tube, itunes, installing apps and deleting apps. I also turned off in-app purchases.

I also loaded all the content with stuff of my choosing.

All she can do is watch videos, play games and listen to music.

Don't blame the hammer for the carpenter's incompetence.

Posted by: eternalemperor | March 10, 2011 7:27 PM | Report abuse

This change is great for people with kids, however I think it is irresponsible of Apple to make this change without giving responsible adult purchasers a way to leave the 15 minute window in place, or expand the 15 minutes window to 30 minutes, so they don't have to reenter their password multiple times when then want to make multiple purchases.

Posted by: BrooklynDodger | March 10, 2011 11:03 PM | Report abuse

rmlwj1, shut up, fatso

Posted by: taonima2000 | March 11, 2011 12:19 AM | Report abuse

Apple's pretty much scum in most ways, the only reason they're doing this is because there's heat over it.

Posted by: Nymous | March 11, 2011 12:45 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: zhengeee666 | March 11, 2011 1:48 AM | Report abuse

Settings/General/Restrictions/Enable Restrictions/[type in a 4 digit code, twice]/disable in app purchases

Simple. Takes about 30 seconds, literally, and 13 "clicks".

And the 4 digit code is different than your account password to buy stuff.

And it can be different, if you want, from the passcode to turn access the phone.

And it is easy to figure out! You don't have to read a manual. Just look through the settings on the phone; it's self explanatory.

Children racking up real charges is one of those "teachable moments." But the lesson should be about parents learning how to operate their device. You paid how much for it? Learn to use it.

I don't think Apple is to blame, or should have to face any penalty for not doing more. If they want to make it even easier, good for them. But any heat Apple is facing on this issue is a little bit more about them simply being Apple than about anything they did "wrong."

And they are giving parents their money back? (At least a few in the news articles I read.)

Posted by: carloz0 | March 11, 2011 10:31 AM | Report abuse

The one remaining thing they need to add is the ability to disable in app purchases for individual apps, the same way you can with location services and push notifications. Give parents the option of having a pin to override that setting in addition to the login, then they could let their kids make purchases in some apps but it's not an all-or-nothing approach.

Posted by: timothytripp | March 11, 2011 5:02 PM | Report abuse

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