Do Virtual Goods-Based Apps Prey on Young Children?

Madison Kay, 8, spent her winter break playing Smurf's Village on her mom's iPad, innocently collecting Smurfberries. Then Madison's mother, Stephanie Kay, received a $1,400 bill from iTunes. "I thought the app preyed on children," Kay, whose daughter was unaware that the game could cost money, told the Washington Post. "Note that the Smurf app states it is for ages 4-plus."

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."

Read the full story at Switched.