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Ignorant of Xbox One's settings, prominent official makes false accusations against Microsoft

It's a familiar story -- a child gets their parent's credit card information to create a gaming account and racks up thousands of in-app charges.  But this time it happened to someone in a prominent media position.  Add in a set of false accusations fueled by ignorance and vague threats of possible lawsuits, and you have quite an entertaining, if unfortunate tale of the price of negligence.

I. Big Bill

The Director of Communications at the World Bank, Jeremy Hillman, is fuming mad after his child racked up a $4500+ USD bill on Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Xbox Live platform, buying EA coins -- an in-app currency used to purchase player packs in FIFA 2015 from Electronic Arts, Inc. (EA).

Jeremy Hillman
Jeremy Hillman -- World Bank Group [Image Source: LinkedIn]

Hillman argues that it's not his fault for entering his credit card information on the account.  He comments in a blog on Medium:

I needed to do that to purchase the original game ($60).  [I] had no knowledge that $100 in-game purchases could even be made and no wish for my credit card to be openly available for use for evermore.

He says he was reviewing his credit card when he noticed a $109 USD charge from Microsoft.  At first he thought it was his Office 365 subscription renewal fee, but then he saw three more of the charges in a two day period.  Looking over the bill he found more than 40 of the charges -- roughly 1 to 2 per day -- stretch over the last month.  The charges added up to more than $4,500 USD.

FIFA packs to buy

FIFA 2015
[Image Source: FIFAUTeam]

His son claimed it was all a big mistake.  Hillman recalls:

[My son] tearfully told me that he’d tried to buy a player pack for $100 but it hadn't worked and so he tried a couple more times. Knowingly trying to spend $100 would have been bad enough but if he was telling the truth then this was a one-off aberration — and Microsoft would surely compensate us for the failed purchases.

For the record, this is one place where the story gets a little farfetched.  Given that the purchases were spread out over days and how EA's randomly assorted player packs (sort of like digital equivalents collectible trading card game expansion packs) works, it seems pretty hard to believe that you would "accidentally" by dozens of the packs and not notice it.

deflated ball
[Image Source: PZC.nl]

After an initial conversation, Hillman was referred to a Microsoft "escalation analyst" -- a ranking customer service rep.  But the rep unsympathetic to Mr. Hillman's plight, informing him:

Our policy states that all purchases are final and non-refundable. A purchase confirmation email was sent to email: XXXX.XXXX@hotmail.com (my son) each time a purchase was made because that is the email that was designated as a contact email on the billing profile …….. you are responsible for any material that a user of your Services account accesses or is denied access to (including as a result of your use or non-use of Parental Controls). You acknowledge that use of our settings is not a substitute for your personal supervision of minors that use your Services account.

He acknowledged he should have been more careful with the account, writing:

My wife and I accept our responsibility in this. We should have paid much closer attention to his video gaming, and my son accepts his responsibility and punishment.

If he had stopped there, perhaps he'd have quite while he was ahead.

II. Accusations are Built on Foundation of Falsehoods

But his subsequent rant indicates he really hasn't "accepted responsibility" and rather feels Microsoft is at fault for the large bill.  

Money on top
[Image Source: Alamy]

In a ranting conclusion to the blog he rages on and seems to close with the implication that Microsoft should face a class action lawsuit:

But where was Microsoft in this? What was their responsibility? ... the treatment we have had at the hands of Microsoft has been appalling.... With all the brilliance of [its] engineers and sophisticated systems to protect [its] data how hard could it be [for Microsoft] to put a realistic ceiling on what can be spent on in-app purchases before the credit card details and security code need to be re-entered? Most apple –iTunes purchases need a password to be re-entered for each new purchase.

How many users legitimately spend thousands of dollars on in-app purchases and just how much usage would it actually take for you to flag this as unusual behavior and require confirmation that the purchase is legitimate? Banks and credit card companies regularly do this?—?there can’t be many reasons you don’t.
....
If Microsoft wanted to spare thousands of parents from frustration, anger and sometimes, serious financial consequences then it could find a hundred ways to do it. It has just chosen not to. Microsoft made a decision based on profit maximization and adhering to the minimum legal requirements. If there’s a lawyer out there that wants to start a class-action against Microsoft and force them into compensation and adopting a better policy I’ll happily sign up.


 
Xbox One controller
[Image Source: GenGame.net]

In an update he seems to cool off, writing:

I seem to have become the center of a social media flurry following publication of this blog (which shouldn’t be a major surprise as I do work in communications but still feels a little strange). Obviously people have picked up on my work role so I should make it clear that I wrote this as a parent over a weekend as purely personal view, and it does not reflect any position of the World Bank. I have not initiated any legal action, and am not planning to, and have already paid the credit card bill. My main intention for the blog was to share my experience with other parents and help them learn from my mistakes.

But wait... here's the punchline that blows this entire story up -- Microsoft actually does implement the kind of "apple –iTunes"-like password/passphrase protection for the Xbox One!  It appears that Hillman was simply ignorant of how to set up his account.

Xbox One -- in-app purchase restrictions

Xbox One -- in-app purchase restrictions

Xbox One -- in-app purchase restrictions

Xbox One -- purchase restrictions

So Hillman was too negligent to take advantage of the parental controls given to him, and now he's claiming those protections don't exist and blaming Microsoft.

While it's true Apple, Inc. (AAPL) and Google Inc. (GOOG) faced successful class action suits over in-app purchases, those suits were predicated in part on the fact that iOS and Android initially offered no way to granularly control in-app purchases versus downloadable game purchases.  Ultimately the Google and Apple settlements with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) called for the exact same kind of system as Microsoft has implemented.

The FTC settlements suggest that the federal regulators feel corporations should not be liable if they provide customers tools to lock their accounts fully,but the consumer was too negligent to take advantage of those protections.  Thus it's a good thing that Hillman's seeming lawsuit threat was a "misunderstanding".  Because were he to waste his time with an actual lawsuit he would likely lose on account of his negligence.

This all goes to show you one thing, for certain.  No matter how many tools platform providers give to allow greater parental controls or how many guides the platform provider posts to try to educate on the use of those tools, they'll still face backlash if in-app purchases are allowed under any circumstance, as an ignorant party (Hillman, in this case) will be unaware of the provide safeguards and accuse the platfrom provider of negligence.

If anyone is to blame here, it would be EA.  Viewing the full picture, it appears that Microsoft has offered a reasonable set of tools to protect gamers.  Outside of those tools, complaints about billing for specific games are an issue between the consumer and the gamemaker -- in this case EA.  Thus it is all the more bizarre that Hillman's rant largely ignored EA and targeted Microsoft, the entity that had offered him protections he refused to use.

Sources: Medium, via Neowin





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