Apple is letting customers know about a 15-minute password-free window so parents can keep a close eye on their kids while using Apple devices

A lengthy letter from Apple CEO Tim Cook to employees revealed that the company settled with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over in-app purchases made by youngsters

Apple will reportedly refund $32.5 million USD total to customers affected by the 15-minute window for in-app purchases made by their children. 

As long as a parent types in their iTunes password, there's a 15-minute window where as many purchases can be made until that time is up without needing the password to be typed in again. This was meant to make things easier on users who don't want to type in a password each time they buy an app, but children were using this to their advantage and buying up tons of apps without their parents knowing (until the bill came, of course). 

The FTC got involved in the issue, and the settlement pushed Apple to email 28,000 customers and refund 37,000 claims regarding the in-app purchases. Apple is letting customers know about the 15-minute window so parents can keep a close eye on their kids while using Apple devices. 

Back in February 2011, Rep. Edward J. Markey (Mass.) along with Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) submitted letters to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz asking for thorough inspection of free children's games by companies such as Pocket Gems and Capcom Interactive.  
Apple iPhone games such as Tap Zoo by Pocket Gems and the Smurfs' Village by Capcom Interactive have been labeled as free children's games, but what parents may not know upon choosing these apps is that items within the games, such as barrels of Smurfberries in the Smurfs' Village game, can cost up to $99 if a child selects them. The end result is bill shock when the charges arrive.  

While these purchases cannot be made without a password, parents argue that it has become too easy for children to figure it out and that safeguards are not strong enough to stop them from purchasing the items found in these games. 

Here's the full letter from Cook to Apple employees: 


I want to let you know that Apple has entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. We have been negotiating with the FTC for several months over disclosures about the in-app purchase feature of the App Store, because younger customers have sometimes been able to make purchases without their parents’ consent. I know this announcement will come as a surprise to many of you since Apple has led the industry by making the App Store a safe place for customers of all ages.

From the very beginning, protecting children has been a top priority for the App Store team and everyone at Apple. The store is thoughtfully curated, and we hold app developers to Apple’s own high standards of security, privacy, usefulness and decency, among others. The parental controls in iOS are strong, intuitive and customizable, and we’ve continued to add ways for parents to protect their children. These controls go far beyond the features of other mobile device and OS makers, most of whom don’t even review the apps they sell to children.

When we introduced in-app purchases in 2009, we proactively offered parents a way to disable the function with a single switch. When in-app purchases were enabled and a password was entered to download an app, the App Store allowed purchases for 15 minutes without requiring a password. The 15-minute window had been there since the launch of the App Store in 2008 and was aimed at making the App Store easy to use, but some younger customers discovered that it also allowed them to make in-app purchases without a parent’s approval.
We heard from some customers with children that it was too easy to make in-app purchases, so we moved quickly to make improvements. We even created additional steps in the purchasing process, because these steps are so helpful to parents.

Last year, we set out to refund any in-app purchase which may have been made without a parent’s permission. We wanted to reach every customer who might have been affected, so we sent emails to 28 million App Store customers – anyone who had made an in-app purchase in a game designed for kids. When some emails bounced, we mailed the parents postcards. In all, we received 37,000 claims and we will be reimbursing each one as promised.

A federal judge agreed with our actions as a full settlement and we felt we had made things right for everyone. Then, the FTC got involved and we faced the prospect of a second lawsuit over the very same issue.

It doesn’t feel right for the FTC to sue over a case that had already been settled. To us, it smacked of double jeopardy. However, the consent decree the FTC proposed does not require us to do anything we weren’t already going to do, so we decided to accept it rather than take on a long and distracting legal fight.

The App Store is one of Apple’s most important innovations, and it’s wildly popular with our customers around the world because they know they can trust Apple. You and your coworkers have helped Apple earn that trust, which we value and respect above all else.

Apple is a company full of disruptive ideas and innovative people, who are also committed to upholding the highest moral, legal and ethical standards in everything we do. As I’ve said before, we believe technology can serve humankind’s deepest values and highest aspirations. As Apple continues to grow, there will inevitably be scrutiny and criticism along our journey. We don’t shy away from these kinds of questions, because we are confident in the integrity of our company and our coworkers.

Thank you for the hard work you do to delight our customers, and for showing them at every turn that Apple is worthy of their trust.


Source: 9 to 5 Mac

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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