Apple will pay $32+ million to parents with app-crazy kids

Apple iBooks Lawsuit Tim Cook

Apple has agreed to pay out a minimum of $32.5 million to parents of children who purchased apps on the iPhone and iPad App Store. Bloomberg reports that Apple has reached a settlement with the FTC (U.S. Federal Trade Commission) over complaints that it was too easy for children to rack up a huge bill while using a parent’s iOS device.

The $32.5 million figure is the least Apple may have to pay. It will reimburse all complaints stemming from child purchases from March 2011.

The Cupertino tech giant must now make sure that it obtains “express, informed consent” before charging users for app and in-app purchases. What that precisely means we don’t yet know, but expect a few more “Is this OK?” prompts before you can buy anything on an iPhone or iPad in the future.

“Consumers should not have to sacrifice basic consumer protections to enjoy the benefits of mobile technology,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said while announcing the details of the settlement.

We’ve been writing about this subject since 2011 (and before), when a little girl racked up a $1400 bill playing Smurf’s Village on iPad. Since then, Apple has started requiring more password authentication to purchase content, and in April 2013 it started putting age-appropriate ratings on apps and games. Of course, one month before that, a 5-year-old kid racked up a $2500 bill in Zombies vs. Ninjas.

The real problem might be the predatory practices of game and app makers, who create free games built to lure players into forking over hundreds of dollars to buy items an older game would give them for free. Reimbursing parents is great, but Apple should also put limits on how much and how fast app makers can charge people. It shouldn’t be possible to rack up a $2500 bill in a casual game about zombies. The FTC blamed Apple for allowing a 15-minute window between having to re-enter your password, but just as much blame should go to the companies that created these titles.

There is one way to prevent this from happening to you. You can go into Settings > General > Restrictions on your iPhone or iPad, click Enable Restrictions and then turn off In-App Purchases