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Apple Sued for Marketing Free Apps with Expensive Upgrades to Children

A judge in San Jose, California has recently allowed a class action lawsuit against Apple, Inc. to proceed. The plaintiffs allege that Apple has marketed free apps to children that encourage them to charge upgrades to their parents’ iTunes accounts. The apps in question include the popular games Smurfs’ Village and Tap Zoo.  Although the apps are free to install, they are designed to be addictive and encourage children to buy expensive upgrades or accessories for their games. Their children had charged money ranging from $99 to $300 to their parents’ iTunes accounts without parental consent.

The class action lawsuit was initiated by a group of California parents whose children had made large purchases of “game currency” without their parents’ knowledge or consent. In the Smurf’s Village game, one purchase of Smurfberries can cost nearly $60.

The plaintiffs allege that Apple targeted these apps at children. The addictive nature of these games encouraged children to purchase expensive game currency. The games are designed to be addictive, and the expensive add-ons are designed to make the game more appealing to users.

Apps Charge Extras to Parents’ iTunes Account

Purchase of the add-ons required the user to enter a password that would allow access to the user’s iTunes account. The password would remain active for 15 minutes before logging the user out of iTunes. Parents were finding that their children were able to rack up an expensive bill during this 15-minute window. Apple has since closed the gap and now requires a password to be entered prior to each purchase. Despite this change, the judge has allowed the case to move forward.

These parents are not alone in their frustration. In 2011, a parent from Madison, Wisconsin revealed that her eight year old daughter had racked up a $1,400 bill playing Smurfs’ Village. The girl said that she did not know that her purchases cost real money and thought that she had just been playing with pretend currency provided through the game.

When parents authorize their children to download these apps, they often believe that they are age appropriate for their children. When the apps list the game to be age appropriate for children aged 4 and up, parents would not expect that their children would be able to make purchases without parental consent.

Class Action Sheds Light on App Marketing

Parents argued that the addictive nature of these games compel children to purchase large amounts of game currency without realizing that they are charging real money to their parents’ credit cards. Although free to install, these apps encourage users to spend real money to improve the game experience, pushing secondary experiences such as extra levels.

Apple has argued that it had installed proper protections by requiring a password to make purchases. Once the 15-minute gap was brought to their attention, they changed the system so that a password would be required prior to any purchase made. Apple had attempted to have the case dismissed, but a judge in San Jose will let it move forward.

Although the success of the lawsuit is uncertain, Apple will have to put together a compelling defense of its practices. Regardless of the case’s outcome, this case draws attention to the issue and may serve as a warning to other app designers and promoters.

Author Bio:Richard Ells wrote this article for the team at Walnut Creek DUI Law Offices, where each attorney follows current tort laws.

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