Does Apple owe you $5?
The way we view apps has evolved rapidly over the last few years. What started as a convenience item for most companies is now a requirement, often more important than a well built website. A side effect of this rapid evolution is missing some critical steps to avoid abuse, which lead to a settlement Apple just agreed to involving apps targeted at selling to children.
In app purchases are an incredibly powerful tool. In a world where we can impulse buy something small and have it be delivered immediately, making sure there are fewer and fewer steps in the micro transaction will guarantee more sales. Apple’s in-app purchasing system nets them a percentage of every dollar made in every app across their ecosystem, so they have a vested interested in making sure there are very few steps in a given transaction. This works well as long as you are dealing with adults, but when you aim this system at children you are bound to run into problems.
Many games for iOS resorted to using in-game currency to purchase things needed to easily progress in each game. Downloading and playing the game is free, but you can progress much faster if you’re willing to pay for an item or accessory to help out. If you want in-game currency, you pay real money through Apple’s in-app purchasing system.
It’s not a bad idea, especially if you’re up to the challenge of trying to play without the aid of in-game money, but if you’re not careful those in-app purchases can rack up quickly. If you’re a child, and it’s not obvious that you are spending your parents money to get fake money for your game, their bank account can quickly suffer.
Obviously parents were upset about this, and a class action lawsuit was created to try and address the problem with Apple. In-app purchasing systems were quickly adjusted to require a password, and game developers now clearly state when real money is changing hands, but the damage was already done. Many users were out hundreds of dollars as a result of these games, often with no idea that the transactions were taking place until they were long done. There’s no record of how many users were involved in the class action suit, or how Apple plans to handle extreme cases, but if you are able to prove that you were a victim of this system you can get some money back.
GigaOm reports that Apple is expected to send an email to over 23 million iTunes users who may have made purchases that fall under the list of infringing apps. Apple will issue anywhere from $5 to $30 in iTunes credit to anyone able to prove that a minor used their account to buy things with in-app purchasing. For users who have more than $30 in purchases that qualify, a request can be made that the money be returned in cash instead of credit. It’s unclear exactly when this is expected to start, as the settlement has yet to be approved by a federal judge, but once that happens the emails are expected to follow shortly after.