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Warning For Parents — Those “Free” Apps Can Be Expensive

I knew something was wrong as soon as I walked through the door from our date night.  My sister in law was stressed and my daughter looked worried.  “What now?” I thought to myself.  I found out soon enough.  “We had a little issue tonight,” my sister in law said.

TSM

Apparently, my sister in law had downloaded a “free” app for my 7 year old daughter onto her iPhone.  It was called “Pet Hotel” by a company called Team Lava.  My daughter was loving the game…quietly playing at the counter as my sister in law cleaned up the kitchen.  That’s when the disturbing phone call came in.  It was Bank of America.  They wanted to make my sister in law aware that an absorbadent amount of money had been charged on her iTunes account in a very short period of time.  More specifically…$220 in the past 30 minutes.  She nearly dropped the phone.  Apparently, the coins that my daughter was buying in the game were linked to my sister in law’s iTunes account…and they were costing REAL MONEY.

One word popped in to my mind as I heard this story.  Predatory.  What child playing a children’s game could possibly differentiate between collecting coins within the game and purchasing coins in the game for ”real world” money?  In my opinion, this app developer purposefully designed this game to greedily prey upon children.  It is unethical.  It is immoral.  It should be illegal.

As soon as I heard the story, I called the Apple store in the Providence Place Mall.  I spoke to a very nice kid who felt my pain…but couldn’t do anything about it.  He advised me to open up the app and find out who the makers of the game were.  I would have to plead my case to this third party.

Turns out, the app instructed us to contact Apple directly for any issues of “accidental in app purchases”.  I tried calling 1 (800) MY-APPLE, but they kindly directed me to the apple.com website.  As I rolled up my sleeves and pleaded my case on the faceless website,  I tried to convince my little girl that this mess wasn’t in any way her fault…but she still looked concerned.

To Apple’s credit, their response was rapid…we got an email back the very next day.  We were relieved to read that Apple issued a full refund for the in app purchases.  I never really blamed Apple.  They didn’t design the app…and they weren’t the ones that would make the bulk of the money from the in app purchases.  I think Apple understands that this type of thing isn’t good for business.

For us, it turned out to be a lesson learned, ending up costing us nothing but a little stress.  No wonder I’m going gray.

 

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