This is really an old problem, but it’s in the headlines again. Pokémon Go is yet another example of a “free” game with a business model based on in-app purchases. These games are also known as F2P, standing for free-to-play. You can start playing, and get hooked, for free. But soon you run into a situation where you can’t proceed without buying virtual stuff in the game. The stuff you buy is virtual but the payment is very real money. This is no doubt a profitable model. Pokémon Go went straight to the top and for example Finland-based Supercell, maker of Clash of Clans, has constantly reported nice profits.
This can naturally cause trouble for addicted adults, but the real problems arise when kids get hooked. There are numerous public stories about kids making purchases for hundreds or even thousands of Euros, often without even understanding how much they have spent. And the sinister part is that this can go on for a while until you get the credit card bill, and it’s too late. Your chances to get a refund are somewhere between slim and none.
But how can this happen? Let’s take a look at the most common scenarios.
- Your kid has set up the new device and created the needed account with Apple or Google. Everything is fine until he or she needs an app that isn’t free. You enter your credit card on the kid’s device and make the purchase, but you don’t pay any attention to the security settings. This may give your kid carte blanche to buy anything he or she likes, and you pay the bill.
- You have entered your credit card but set up the kid’s store account so that a password only you know is required for every purchase. But there are some convenient settings that allow purchases without a password within a limited time window after the password has been entered. Kids learn very quickly to utilize this opportunity.
- Let’s assume the same setup as in the previous point, but with the correct security settings. Now the password is needed for every purchase. But the store account is still owned by the kid and the password can be reset. The password reset link will be sent to the kid’s mail or phone number. It’s carte blanche again with the new password.
- Ok, you create an account you own for the kids phone. It’s tied to your mail and phone number, so the password reset trick shouldn’t work anymore. You put down your phone and head for the toilet. Your kid has been waiting for the opportunity and initiates the password reset request. Your phone is there on the table wide open, with the reset link in the mail. You can figure out the rest yourself.
- And of course the simple alternative. You think the store password on your kid’s device is secret. But in reality it is either too easy to guess or someone has been looking over your shoulder.
So there’s many things that can go wrong, but what can we do to avoid it? There are many ways to fight this problem, but this is in my opinion the best approach:
- Let the kid set up the store account on the device and set own passwords. Just like an adult would use a phone, except that there’s no payment method registered.
- Never enter your credit card number on the kid’s device.
- On Android, get familiar with Google Play Family. This feature enables you to purchase stuff for your kid on your own device.
- On iPhone, send apps or money as gifts.
- There may be applications that bypass the store and handle credit card transactions directly. This can typically be handled with vouchers or other prepaid payment methods instead. The application usually guides the users and list all supported methods.
Let’s also take a look at the hard way. Follow these instructions if you for some reasons must have your credit card registered as a payment method on the kid’s device.
- Make sure the store is protected with a good password that only you know.
- Make sure the kid isn’t watching too closely when you enter it.
- Make sure the store is set up to require the password every time a purchase is made.
- Make sure the store account is attached to an e-mail only you have access to. Make sure the e-mail password is decent and not known to your kid.
- Make sure your phone’s security settings are decent. Use a PIN or password your kid doesn’t know and make sure it locks automatically quickly enough. Even better, do not have the e-mail of your kids store account on your phone. Access it through web mail when needed.
So this is after all a quite complex issue. There are many variations and other ways to deal with the problem. Did I miss some simple and clever way? Write a comment if you think I did.
And finally. Yes, there’s also many ways to lock the kids out of the store completely. This does no doubt solve some problems, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. They will after all live their lives in a world where digital devices and services are as natural as breathing. They deserve the opportunity to start practicing for that right now. Let them browse the store and discover all the fun stuff. And be part of the group and use all the same apps as their friends. Let them have fun with the phone and learn, even if they will learn some things the hard way. Don’t ruin it for them.