8-Year-Old Girl Racks Up $1,400 Bill After Playing 'Smurfs' Village' iPad Game
That's what Stephanie Kay received, after her daughter Madison spent her winter break playing the 'Smurfs' Village' game on her family's iPad. The second-grader from Maryland apparently wasn't aware that the Smurfberries she collected cost real money -- a detail that, according to her mom, should've been better explained. "I thought the app preyed on children," the mother told the Washington Post. "Note that the Smurf app states it is for ages 4-plus."
'Smurfs' Village' is one of several smartphone games that are free to download, but allow users to collect additional tokens or services via so-called "in-app purchases." Apple has implemented safeguards to prevent kids from making unaware purchases. For example, users are prompted to enter their iTunes passwords before making a purchase, and parents can adjust settings on their iPhones or iPads to limit downloads and purchases. Capcom, the company behind 'Smurfs' Village,' 'Top Zoo,' and 'Bakery Story,' has even introduced pop-up warnings in many of its games, in an effort to alert users whenever their actions will require some sort of purchase.
Kay eventually received a one-time refund from Apple, and quickly changed her iTunes password. But she and other parents still argue that games explicitly geared toward children shouldn't tempt players with purchases to begin with -- and especially not at exorbitant prices. In the Smurfs game, for instance, a wagon of Smurfberries costs $99, and a virtual bucket of snowflakes is priced at $19. Even Apple's password protection isn't entirely foolproof. Once a user types in a password, he or she can continue to purchase items without re-entering the password for 15 minutes -- enough time, apparently, for kids to do plenty of damage.
Others, meanwhile, maintain that it's ultimately a parent's responsibility to monitor the games their children are playing, and to watch out for potential pitfalls -- however well disguised they may be. "Parents need to know that the promotion of games and the delivery mechanism for them are deceptively cheap," said Jim Styer, president of Common Sense Media. "But basically people are trying to make money off these apps, which is a huge problem, and only going to get bigger because mobile apps are the new platform for kids."