How to Stop Your Kids from Making In-App Purchases


Little Girl with iPad Photo by Brad Flickinger FlickrA few weeks ago, a British 7-year-old nearly drained his parent’s bank account by memorizing his dad’s iPad and Apple ID passwords, and then buying over £4000 (about $5,900) in Dino Bucks used for upgrades in the iTunes game Jurassic World.

The dinosaur loving little boy, Faisall Shugaa, made 65 purchases from Apple between December 13 and 18. He told his father that he didn’t know that Dino Bucks cost real money. His father, Mohamed Shugaa, didn’t realize his son had memorized the Apple ID password, and thought that Apple should have realized that there was something wrong with that kind of spending in a game targeted at the under-12 crowd.

As the Metro reports, Mr. Shugaa was unsurprisingly very upset when he discovered the purchases.“I was so mad. I’m 32 years old. Why would Apple think I would be spending thousands of pounds on buying dinosaurs and upgrading a game? Why didn’t they email me to check I knew these payments were being made? I got nothing from them. How much longer would it have gone on?”

Of course, this isn’t the first time Apple has been blamed for making it too easy for children to run up huge bills while playing child-focused games. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cited the company in 2014 for making it too easy for kids to blow money through in-app purchases. The FTC specifically cited Apple’s failure to inform parents before charges were authorized and opening a 15-minute window following login that let kids make additional purchases without an additional authorization.

While no final ruling was ever made by U.S. regulators, Apple paid $32.5 million to cover refunds to exasperated parents. In a similar settlement in September 2014, Google handed over $19 million to the FTC . In both cases, the FTC said that it shouldn’t be too easy for kids playing games targeted at kids to run up bills for their parents by clicking on buttons within the game. Unfortunately, in-app purchases aren’t the only problem kids can run into with mobile apps.

The FTC has a great infographic with simple but very good advice about how to keep up with kids’ apps, which can do more than damage your bank account if they are running on devices that are used by working adults – not just kids. According to the Sophos Naked Security blog, apps aimed at kids have been blamed for all of these problems:

  • Collecting and sharing personal information. An investigation by privacy watchdogs in 2015 found that just over 2 in 3 apps and sites were collecting children’s names and email addresses.
  • Displaying adult-oriented ads such as the naked selfie ads offered up in kids app My Talking Tom.
  • Linking to corporate social media accounts. It’s hard enough for any of us, at any age, to think before we post. It’s probably not the best idea to mix kids high on mobile game adrenaline with your personal or professional social media accounts.

How to Let Kids Play Without In-App Purchases

Luckily, parents don’t have to wait around for the FTC, Google, or Apple to solve the problem. Here are four simple ways to let your kids play on your iPad or iPhone without risking your bank account.

  1. Enable Touch ID for all purchases, if your device has the feature. Both the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint readers have been bypassed, but even the most determined kid will have to work hard to make unauthorized purchases if they have to get around the fingerprint reader first – and it’s beyond the skill of most 7-year-olds.
  2. Create a separate iTunes account for your child, and don’t associate that account with a credit card. It’s annoying to deal with more than one account on the same device, but it might well be worth the aggravation. Make sure any game or app your child is allowed to play is linked to their iTunes account (not to yours) in the Game Center.
  3. Hide the App Store icon on your home page. Go to your iOS device Settings – > General – > Restrictions and tap Enable Restrictions. Enter a four-digit PIN and then turn on restrictions for installing apps and in-app purchases (make sure the slider is set to OFF). This will remove the App Store icon from your iOS home screen making it a lot harder for  kids to buy anything from the store. (Of course, doing this means that when you want to buy or download an app, you’ll have to go back to the settings page and disable the restrictions first, then disable them again before your child is allowed to use the device again.)
  4. Turn on flight mode. I do this when I give my iPad to my youngest grandchildren while they’re in the backseat of the car. It lets them play when I can’t keep my eyes on them directly, but it disables the device’s connection to the outside world. So they can play, but they can’t text, buy anything, or access inappropriate content.

Of course, kids aren’t the only people who can drain your bank account with in-app purchases. Keep an eye on credit card statements and bank statements for in-app purchases made by con artists. In April 2015, a California woman filed suit against Google, alleging that inadequate security enabled crooks to run through 650 transactions, worth thousands of dollars, on her Google Play account, all debited electronically without her sign-off.

Photo credit: Photographer Brad Flickinger offered the photo of a little girl and her iPad on Flickr, under a Creative Commons License.

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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