UnAppy: The real cost of 'free' games

OLIVIA WANNAN
Last updated 08:50 22/12/2013

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Parent have been given a stark warning about "free" phone and tablet apps for kids ahead of the gift-giving season.

In a recent sweep of initially free game apps, the Australian consumer watchdog said many kept parents in the dark about kids' ability to buy in-game help or level advancement.

With many children not understanding a tap of a button actually means spending their parents' money, apps need to be upfront about costs when downloading games, the agency says. Of the 340 investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, fewer than 25 per cent mentioned in-game purchases could be made.

In New Zealand, the Commerce Commission has also been monitoring such apps, though no complaints have been laid, a spokesman says.

NetSafe's Sean Lyons said the issue was constantly arising. "Mum and Dad allow them to download a few demos and then the credit card bill comes in next month and there's $300 on there and they're not even sure what it is."

Many initially free games had reasonable "micro-charges" of a few dollars, which funded the development of the app.

But there would always be unscrupulous developers trying to fleece people, he warned.

Interactive Games and Entertainment Association chief executive Ron Curry said the industry was keen to work with consumer rights agencies to develop checks to protect young game players from exploitation.

A Vodafone survey this month estimated one-third of parents with kids under 4 were planning to buy them an internet-capable device this Christmas. Wellington dad Ben Pujji, who has two young but technologically savvy kids, had set the family's devices up so every purchase requires his authorisation.

He has been stung before, when 3-year-old daughter Vivienne downloaded six Toca Boca games within a few minutes as his sign-in remained valid. "I didn't even notice until the round-up email invoice came a few days later."

He thought things were better now distributors such as Apple had set rules for how game developers handled in-app purchases. Many now listed in-game costs on the information screen in the online store, he said.

 

PURCHASE PROTECTION

NetSafe chief technology officer Sean Lyons has this advice for parents: Apple's App Store and Google Play have password-protection features, so the password must be keyed in for each and every purchase - set these up.

Avoid providers that do not have such protection or ones that automatically store personal details like your credit or debit card numbers.

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Search the internet for reviews of apps before buying them, which should throw up any issues previous people have had with them.

Ensure only you know the passwords and your credit cards are kept hidden.

Talk to your children about your household rules on the issue when they first start using internet-capable devices, and use the opportunity to discuss online privacy and safety.

- Sunday Star Times

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