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In-App Traps: Steps To Avoid Them

February 17, 2016

In 1977, McDonalds started selling the Happy Meal. By adding a toy to their usual food offering, and packaging it all together in a bright red box, they targeted children. There was only one problem with this marketing plan: they had to target kids through their parents. It wasn’t until quite recently that someone worked out how to circumvent this parent-factor and market directly to children without the need for parental approval. And they did it through in-app purchases for your smartphone and tablet.

In 2014, Apple was ordered to refund $32.5 million to parents of children who had made in-app purchases against the will of their parents. According to these parents, it was far too easy for their kids to charge to their parents’ credit cards without realising what they were doing, or –more importantly–without the knowledge of person being charged.

There are two levels to this issue: parental control and app design. It might seem like you only have control over the former, but luckily, that’s not the case. We’ve prepared a list of steps you can take to make sure you’re in full-control of these in-app purchases: after all, it is your hard-earned cash that’s at stake here.

STEP ONE: Remove the Risk

Some commentators suggest a blanket ban, or limitation approach, which makes sense in theory. Stop kids having access to tablets, phones, and laptop computers, and you stop the unwanted purchases, as well as the square-eyes syndrome people have been harking since television entered households. We don’t need to tell you that this approach doesn’t work very well. It’s a sensible decision to turn down your child’s requests for an iPad or an Android tablet, but it’s not sensible to think you can avoid the entrance of technology (and its subsequent expenses) into your child’s life. You still need a strategy, even if your child does not have their own computer, smartphone, or tablet.

It would all be too easy if you never had to connect your credit card in the first place. Thankfully, it’s possible. In this case, Apple products might be your best bet, despite their premium price. On the iTunes Store, it is possible to download apps- even paid apps- without entering your credit card details. No such luck with Google Play or the Amazon App Store. So you will need to be judicious in the apps your kids choose, if you want to avoid costs all together.

STEP TWO: Choose Wisely

Not all apps are created equal, and there is such a thing as responsible app creation. It’s true: some apps are designed to appear free, when they really feature tonnes of potentially expensive in-app purchases that you may not even be aware of until you look at your bank statement.

Games that operate with an in-game currency– like the coins in Clash of Clans, or the the golden fish in Neko Atsume– can be easy traps for kids who don’t understand that they are using real money when they chose to buy extra coins or fish. Kids are still developing their understand of money, and their scepticism of advertising: you do not want them to test this with your credit card in hand.

If you’re looking for it, it is actually quite easy to spot which apps include these sneaky in-app traps.

In Amazon's App Store, they look like this
In Amazon’s App Store, they look like this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Google Play, they look like this
In Google Play, they look like this

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Apple's App Store, they look like this
In Apple’s App Store, they look like this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can choose to download only apps without in-app purchases (mindful that you may pay for them upfront to avoid these in-app charges). Or you can stop them accessing the store completely….

STEP THREE: Switch Off

To Apple’s credit, there actually is a mechanism to turn off In-App purchases, and a method to block access to the App Store. Click here for our guided tutorial.

Google Play users, you’re not so lucky at the moment, but you can require a PIN to go through with purchases.

Amazon App Store users, you now can. Just make sure any purchases is a different PIN to the one you use to unlock your device, as kids are likely to know that one already.

STEP FOUR: Give In

One way to teach your kids about saving and spending is to use iTunes gift cards, or Amazon App store cards as rewards for good grades or good behaviour. The clear benefit here is that kids can try their hand at money management with a definite limit set in place. Don’t be too liberal, however- $20 can get you pretty far as apps go.

Teaching your kids about money, and the value of money will take time. These steps are intended to help in that process, and if followed, can lead you to a time when your children realise exactly what it is that is occurring when they hit that “Get” button.

Apps are big business, and they’re going to remain that way. As Issue #3 of INSIGHTS tells us, the move from desktop to mobile is not a fleeting trend: it’s the future’s foreshadow.

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Header Image Credit: https://flic.kr/p/aPuBan

 

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