Recently, I had a client give me a call in a panic. Her son had been using his phone and had managed to rack up over $300 dollars in purchases from the Google app store. What had happened was that her son had downloaded a “free” game that contained something called “In-App Purchases”.
Game developers are a pretty smart bunch, they learned a long time ago that that if you give away something for free that’s good, people want more of it. Once they get a “taste” they want more, and are willing to pay for it.
Its been jokingly referred to as the “drug dealer method”. Give away a sample for free, build up an addiction then sell it.
Psychologists have determined that small value transactions (called micro transactions) are the key to this model. 99 Cents here, $1.99 there are all manageable transactions for people. The problem is, the mental math of “Well, its only a dollar” can get people in trouble. This is because often it starts off as a dollar, then balloons to either a bunch of transactions, or larger transactions.
The game in question was called “Clash of Clans”. The model in this game is that you exchange real world cash for “Gems”. These gems reduce the amount of time needed to accomplish a goal in the game. As the game progresses, you have to wait longer to accomplish a goal. In the beginning a goal could be a few minutes, but later in the game, its days or weeks.
You can wither “wait” the day or week, or pay for gems. You then exchange gems to reduce the wait. For those not familiar with how this works, it may seem like an asinine concept. However, SuperCell the parent company that makes Clash of Clans is doing very well.. How well? Some estimate they are making upwards of $24 million… a DAY.
They (the game developers) also technically don’t offer any refunds, period.
The big problem is that on both the Apple Store and the Google Play Store, it is rather easy to link your credit card in order to purchase apps. Buying “gems” in this game is a few steps, and it CLEARLY states you are exchanging real money for something virtual in the game.. However, that’s only if you read it, in about 4 taps on a screen a child can rack up hundreds or thousands of dollars of charges on either a credit card bill, or a cell phone bill.
Here are some media examples of this:
Those are just the large ones, there are thousands upon thousands of smaller transactions in the $10 – $500 range that parents are upset about.
There was even a class action lawsuit launched against Apple over the issue (Apple settled)
Google was also hit with a lawsuit for the same thing recently.
1) Don’t link your credit card to Google or Apple. This is typically easier said than done as most of the time you simply can’t remove all of your credit card info. Some users report that setting the payment to “None” is not even an option in some cases. Here are the instructions: Apple Google
2) Block purchases, or add a PIN. This is what Google and Apple would prefer, they make it difficult (but not impossible) to remove all forms of payment from your account. They do however, offer additional security measures to prevent unauthorized users (ie Kids) from making a purchase. NOTE: if you give the pin to your child, there is almost zero chance of a refund. Its like giving them your bank card and PIN. You are 100% responsible for the charges in this case.
To enable password protection here are the instructions:
These are really hit and miss. Googles policy is that you have 15 minutes after the app purchase is made to receive a refund. Apple has no refund policy.
HOWEVER, it’s a squeaky wheel gets the grease kind of deal. For Apple you can try emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org for Google you can try https://support.google.com/googleplay/answer/134336
Phoning them is much harder as both companies would prefer (ie force) you to contact them via email. The contact numbers tend to change very quickly once they are out in the wild..
As of now you can try:
Apple: 1-800-676-2775, 1-800-275-2273 or try: https://getsupport.apple.com/ServiceOptionAction.action
In my customers case, contacting Google at the number above did work, and she was able to receive not only the refund she wanted, but she got more back than she was expecting.
If the charge in on a credit card, you can also dispute the payment through the credit card company. Although I would recommend you read the next section first.
For your child, they are likely going to lose their “game account”. Any progress they have made in their virtual world will likely be deleted.
If you dispute the credit card charge you put your ENTIRE account at risk, either your Apple account or your Google account. I would NOT recommend going this route, try to work it out with Apple or Google first.
The issue is something that may have a solution in regulation or further litigation. As of July 2014, South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission has ordered both Google and Apple to remove certain clauses out of their terms of service. This pertains more to apps that are “free trials” that auto convert to paid software after a certain amount of time. In the States, Amazon is reported to be pushing back against the US FTC guidelines.
Only time will tell how this plays out. Until then, it’s a good idea to lock down the in app purchases!
Remember we can always help you with securing your phones and mobile devices. Just give us a call!