Eight-Year-Old Girl Spends £4,000 On iOS Games

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Apple has agreed to grant a refund to a Somserset man for his daughter’s £4,000 worth of unauthorised in-app purchases

Apple has agreed to grant a refund to a Somerset man whose eight-year-old daughter accumulated almost £4,000 of in-app games purchases without his knowledge.

Lee Neale, a 43-year-old aerospace designer, only discovered the purchases when his bank account was frozen. He was considering borrowing money from his father, and selling his car and his son’s motorbikes in order to cover the bill.

Game currency

Many of the “free” games available for mobile devices on Apple’s App Store offer in-app purchases (IAP) that unlock more content. Neale said that daughter, Lily, had racked up more than 100 such purchases playing games such as Campus Life, My Horse, Hay Day and Smurfs’ Village between March and July, including £2,000 spent on 74 transactions in a period of six days earlier this month.

“Lily had used the password she’d seen me enter to download the games,” Neale told The Sun. “These in-app purchases are terrible and people need to be aware.”

kids-pornography-internet-censorshipApple had sent Neale notifications for each purchase, but the messages went to a work address that he wasn’t using.

Initially Apple refused to issue a refund, saying all App Store purchases are “final”. However, Neale said Apple contacted him to revisit his case after an article on the matter appeared in a Bristol newspaper.

Unauthorised IAPs have resulted in several high-profile complaints. In February, a five-year-old boy spent £1,700 on 19 purchases for the game Zombies vs Ninja, while in March an eight-year-old boy spent £980 on virtual doughnuts in a Simpsons game. In both cases parents were awarded a refund.

Widespread problem

However, unauthorised purchases by children is a widespread problem for parents, according to a recent Microsoft survey, which estimated they cost parents £30.9m per month. In Microsoft’s a survey of 2,000 British parents, 28 percent said their children had made purchases without permission, and 83 percent of those said they had suffered “bill shock” as a result.

In April, the Office of Fair Trading responded to complaints about the IAP-based business model, launching an investigation into whether it unfairly pressures or encourages children to pay for additional content. PhonePayPlus, the UK regulator of premium rate phone services, said the number of complaints it received over unauthorised IAPs rose by around 300 percent in 2012.

Apple recently settled a US lawsuit over in-app purchses, agreeing to spend up to £66m on refunds to parents.

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