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Candy From A Baby

Greg and Sharon Kitchen recently became the latest in a string of unsuspecting parents to be hit with a nasty credit-card bill following a child’s wild-romp through iOS-based IAPs. Whilst some parents have been stung for a few pounds (and whilst in America this is an issue that Apple are seemingly happy to tackle, having paid £66m in refunds), the Kitchen’s bill was eye-wateringly large in a country that has made no progress whatsoever towards reaching a robust solution.

In the midst of entertaining guests at their home, the Kitchen’s five-year-old son, Danny, persuaded his mum and dad to download the ‘free’ Zombies Vs. Ninjas app. As the adults went on to enjoy a well-earned break with like-minded conversation in their own home (a rare treat for most parents), Danny promptly sat down and spent over £1700 through IAPs before the alarm was raised the next day.

The newspapers and tabloids were predictably awash with shock and indignation directed at the apparently negligent and blasé business tactics of Apple, seen as preying mercilessly on the unsuspecting squeezed-middle. The Internet was predictably awash with tech-savvy cynicism and disdain that largely boiled down to “idiot parents – they deserve every charge they got”

In reality, neither fierce perspective is particularly helpful with neither doing the situation full justice.

Anyone who’s a parent will appreciate how completely demanding small children can be. If you’re not (and I say this with a tremendous amount of respect and envy): until you’ve had a child, you are one. That’s a bitter pill to swallow from whichever perspective you take – I know full well as I was told this by a parent before I became one and felt as insulted then as I do wistful now.

As a parent of two lively and amazing young boys (both of whom have access to a range of devices pre-loaded with credit-card details), I know how much effort it takes to both regulate what they access and protect myself from nasty surprises. But I’m a tech-savvy dad and am quite confident in the digital realm; many parents are not. You might argue that these parents would be wise to therefore keep away from devices that might expose either them or their children to harm. In the tech-fuelled world that we live in, that’s hardly a realistic proposition.

The digital divide manifests itself in a variety of forms. It is perhaps this danger-zone of tech-obsessed digital-immigrant parents wanting to give their digital-native offspring the best possible start in life where the greatest and most unavoidable problems lay. Until younger generations make their way through the system and become the lion’s share of parents themselves, it’s a problem that’s simply not going to go away.

Chocolate Factory

If only shielding yourself from the dark side of the digital world was as easy

But what can be done?

It’s all well and good bemoaning the parents and telling them that there’s ways and means of preventing this from happening. But some people simply won’t be able to fathom even the most straightforward of instructions. The moment you tell them to root around in settings, menus, sub-menus and options, the shutters come down and panic sets in. News flash: it’s not their fault.

Technology has literally exploded over the last decade. It’s therefore no surprise that some find mastering it an insurmountable challenge that they have little experience to draw upon when tackling. If the support of capable friends or family is not there, most will simply bury their head in the sand and hope for the best. Yes, on a level, I find such individuals as frustrating as the next person but pointing a finger at them and laughing isn’t going to stop the problem in its tracks. If anything, it says more negative things about those that arrogantly denigrate the hapless fool than it does the fool itself.

So here’s a couple of suggestions that might make everyone’s lives easier:

If I spend money on my credit card in an erratic manner, my bank is aware. Anyone who’s had their card blocked abroad or when making a variety of payments in quick succession will know what I mean. So if an individual’s card suddenly racks up in excess of a few hundred pounds via an online store, shouldn’t something trigger a red flag and block further purchases? Failing a banking intervention: isn’t it remiss of Apple to not instate a standard ceiling on daily purchases? A few hundred pounds, perhaps, that can be raised or removed upon request with proof of identity and age? In other words: wouldn’t the noble thing be to have limitless spending as opt-in? And along similar lines: wouldn’t it be wiser to have IAPs off by default so as to force those that want to partake to learn how to find the option in the menus before, not after, a nasty surprise?

At the end of the day there will, for the foreseeable future (arguably forever) be parents that fall foul of dreaded IAPs; reluctance on the part of developers, manufacturers and banks to be proactive instead of reactive paints a black mark against the entire gaming community.

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Husband. Parent. Gamer. Go figure.

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  1. I don’t see why Apple can’t have a system that tracks unusual activity over a 24 hr period and email a warning. Even setting it to ping when purchases suddenly go up beyond 500% of usual would at least cover the more extreme cases. I would love to know how much money devs and Apple make from these accidental purchases each year. My daughter done me for a fiver’s worth in some crap app, I went potty!

    • Simon Burns Safeguarding systems like this could, I am sure, be implemented easily, which leads yo to believe that they don’t want to as this kind of thing is a real money spinner on balance

    • Simon Burns I’m sure such a system could be implemented – they simply mustn’t want to do anything that prohibits excessive spending

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