Business

CONSUMER ALERT

Parents forced to play defense with costly apps

Q. Recently we had an issue with Apple/iTunes. My 11-year-old son managed to rack up hundreds of dollars in charges on a game called Dragonvale. He was buying virtual gems, which then helped him advance in the game. The problem I have with this game and Apple is that the game is meant for younger children, say 12 and under, and Apple knows this. Yet they charge big bucks for kids to buy these virtual gems. It seems as though my son is not the only kid who has manag

ed to rack up hundreds of dollars on this game. We feel as though Apple is taking advantage of children and their innocence knowing that it’s children who play the game.

HELENE SULLIVAN, GRAFTON

A. Indeed, you are not alone. Lots of parents have been faced with children running up big bills playing this game and others.

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Dragonvale, while sold on iTunes, isn’t made by Apple. But clearly, as the marketing agent of the game, the company has often faced these complaints.

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While Apple did agree to look into this case, the company would not respond specifically to your concerns. Instead, an Apple spokeswoman noted the tools available to parents.

“We are proud to have industry-leading parental controls,” spokeswoman Christine Monaghan said. “Parents can easily use our parental control settings to restrict app downloading and turn off in-App purchasing. In addition to a password being required to purchase an app on the App Store, a reentry of your password is now required when making an in-App purchase.”

There are two problems here. The first is game companies marketing to kids, tempting them to spend on a medium where it isn’t clear — certainly to a kid — that they’re using real money. The second is that parents have to recognize that smartphones, tablets, and iPods — when linked to credit cards — are virtual cards themselves. So if you don’t take steps to lock down your child’s access, you run the risk of them running up bills.

More parents should make a stink about this so Apple and other companies ensure children can’t run up bills on child-oriented apps unless the credit card holder specifically authorizes it. You shouldn’t have to play defense.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.