Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Regulating Apps for Kids

©2011 Beeline Interactive, Inc. Smurf Village screenshot via iPad Jailbreak

This article by Stuart Dredge published in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago is definitely worth a quick read through. In it, Dredge interviews various people (attending the Children's Media Conference in Sheffield in early July) involved in making (& consulting) apps for kids in regards to the apparent lack of movement seen thus far on the controversial issue of in-app purchasing/marketing to young kids (**as you'll read below, Dredge notes that it's already been over a year since the big Smurf Village controversy). As Dredge describes:
A year on from the first high-profile controversy around children and in-app purchases (IAP) in apps – the Smurfs' Village game on iOS – some elements of the apps industry still haven't learned the lessons.
That game's developer has just released a Shrek game that offers a £6.99 IAP at the end of its tutorial – within the 15-minute window which, for parents who have not changed their default settings, means children won't have to enter a password in order to buy.
Elsewhere, games are suggesting $99.99 purchases to help children buy Chickity Puff creatures, and selling gems to cure virtual pets. Meanwhile, despite Apple improving the parental controls in iOS, there are still parents facing unexpected iTunes bills for virtual items bought by their children.
The  article includes a couple of different opinions from key industry players, as well as some discussion of government vs. industry-self regulation, though doesn't delve TOO deeply into these questions (or the ethical questions these practices - and some of the conference's speakers - raise). Still - it's good to see that the issue hasn't disappeared completely, and I'm hoping that the discussion continues and evolves into something a little more focused as these devices (& associated, emerging commercial practices) continue to spread and attract public scrutiny.

On a related note - I found a copy of the image above on iPad Jailbreak, accompanying some instructions on how to block in-app purchases on your iOS device. A potentially useful strategy for parents/kids to use while they wait for a clearer, more effective infrastructure to emerge.

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