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How to stop kids from making unauthorized in-app purchases

15 July-2014, WSJ: The Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon.com Thursday, alleging that the online retailer allowed kids to rack up millions of dollars in unauthorized purchases through its app store. In January, the agency settled similar charges against Apple for practices at its App Store. Google, which has been criticized for letting kids make unauthorized purchases through its Play store for Android phones, has so far escaped the commission’s legal scrutiny.

How to stop kids from making unauthorized in-app purchases

How to stop kids from making unauthorized in-app purchases

Today, all three tech giants offer parents some controls over in-app purchases, requiring passwords to be entered periodically, or for each purchase. Here’s a look at the policies:

APPLE: Users are asked to enter a password when they download an app. To make an in-app purchase, the user has to enter the password again. That opens a 15-minute window in which the user can make more purchases without entering a password.

But a user can change settings to require a password for every purchase, or to disable all in-app purchases. (The choices are at Settings > General > Restrictions > Require Password.)

Prior to 2012, Apple users were prompted to enter a password once, which automatically authorized additional purchases for 15 minutes. In its complaint against Apple, the FTC alleged that consumers didn’t always understand that the password would allow additional purchases. Parents had complained about unexpected charges to Apple and to the commission. Apple changed its practices before its January settlement with the commission, in which it agreed to refund parents a minimum of $32.5 million, and change some billing practices.

Apple plans to give parents more control in the next version of its mobile operating system, iOS 8, expected this fall. In iOS 8, Apple will allow users to create family accounts where parents are alerted each time a child tries to make a purchase.

ANDROID (GOOGLE): Users attempting to make an in-app purchase must enter a password and then set controls. Users have three options. They can require that a password be re-entered every time a purchase is made, every 30 minutes, or to never ask again.

Google changed its settings in March, shortly after Apple’s settlement with the FTC. Google says the settings give parents more choice, by allowing them to avoid having to enter passwords repeatedly, or to maintain strict control. Users can change the setting at any time.

AMAZON: To make an in-app purchase through the Amazon App store, users are asked whether they want to require a password for each future purchase, or permit purchases without a password. No purchase can be made before the user makes that choice. Users who choose to require a password for future purchases are taken to a parental-control screen where they can prevent any app purchases by kids or limit the amount of time kids spend on apps.