The Poisoned Apple

There is a growing trend at the moment. We see it every other week on the news. A child has racked up thousands of pounds worth of charges on in-game purchases on a tablet. And they didn’t know they were doing it. I can imagine, as a parent, that it must be horrifying to look at your bank statement or credit card statement and find that your child has spent thousands of pounds on your behalf. What I can’t imagine is allowing it to happen.

The first couple of times I saw these reports, I was sceptical. But they keep coming. And now I’m just cross. The children who have made these purchases range from toddlers to eloquent teenagers. And none of them knew what they were doing.

I don’t buy it. Well,in the case of toddlers, I get that they didn’t know what they were doing, but I’ll come back to that. The latest story,as I write this, is about an eleven year old who seems very eloquent, intelligent. He is shown playing the game, and we see a screen shot of the packages he was offered. He’s buying coins for use in the game. A bundle costs £34.99 a time. He says he thought he was spending virtual money, even though he understands that virtual currency is what he was buying. Even though he had to enter the account password to authorise the purchase.

And there’s a thing. Why does an eleven year old, using a parent’s iPad which is password protected have the password? Surely the password is one of the security measures made available to prevent exactly this happening. Don’t give your child the password so they can download and buy whatever they feel like buying. More fool you.

And then there’s the iTunes receipts. You get them when you buy something through iTunes. How do you let your child spend £3500 on iPad purchases without knowing about it? This didn’t happen in one day.

And then there’s the idea of teaching your child some sort of responsibility. Having spent £3500 of your money, you’d think an 11 year old would appear at least a little bit repentant. But this one is on the news, giving interviews and acting for all the world like he’s completely in the right and had no part in this problem, as is his father, who says his child worked out the password. Hmn, devious child. And err … crap password. Come on, you were lax in your responsibility, your child took advantage and knowingly spent your money. And Apple paid it all back, more fool them.

Back to those toddlers. My daughter, aged two, is this week obsessed with playing with my phone. As soon as she sees it unattended, she’s there, exploring. She liked to look at the photos. She liked to listen to music. She likes to mess with stuff. Except that if I’m not there supervising, she can’t. It’s locked. And if it weren’t she certainly wouldn’t be able to spend any money because everything that requires my cash is password protected. So why are toddlers being given iPads to play with that have no password protection on them? My daughter plays on an iPad – she likes numbers and letters games. But she knows how to get to the app store too (she’s a fast learner). I always steer her away from it again, but if it happened when I was out of the room for a moment, she wouldn’t be buying anything. It’s protected.

So, dear parents, if you allow your child to play without using the security settings provided, or use them but give your child the password, then I think you have to accept some responsibility for what happens. I accept that some games are not as clear as they could be. I accept that some games are trying to pressure players into spending money. But those things would not matter if you just used the blinking password settings!

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