Parents Ask Judge For Permission To Sue Apple, Judge Says Ok
April 19, 2012

Parents Ask Judge For Permission To Sue Apple, Judge Says Ok

Michael Harper for

Apple has been dragged into yet another lawsuit this week, except this time it´s not from the tech or publishing world; the new lawsuit comes from parents. According to the parents, Apple isn´t doing enough to keep their kids from racking up hundreds of dollars with in-app purchases.

At the center of the lawsuit are games available in Apple´s iTunes App Store. Many games geared towards children on the App Store can be downloaded for free. However, some of these games offer in-app purchases to advance or speed up the progress of the game.

For instance, in-app purchases can be used to buy virtual currency, add-ons such as new weapons or outfits, and multipliers which will accrue the gamer more points in less time.

Many of these in-app purchases are relatively cheap, anywhere from .99 cents to $5.99. However, some of these in-app purchases, as is the case in the game Smurf´s Village, can cost up to $99.

That kind of money can buy a lot of Smurfberries.

Now parents are blaming Apple for such “addictive” games which drive their children to make these purchases without realizing they are actually spending real money.

The virtual key which allows a user to make any kind of purchase in the iTunes store is an iTunes password. With it, anyone can make an instant purchase. In order to protect the user´s privacy and wallet, Apple will require the password after a user-set period of time has lapsed. A typical scenario could have gone this way:

A parent downloads a new, free game to their iPad for their child to play. The iTunes store requests a password, even though the game is free. The parent enters the password and the game begins to download. Once complete, the parent hands the iPad to their eager child. The child begins to play the game and realizes they can only access a certain character or earn more points if they make an in-app purchase. If this happens within the parent´s iTunes password window of opportunity, the child can make as many purchases as they want, instantly, without their parents´ permission.

In response to these complaints, Apple implemented an option for users to completely turn off in-app purchases, as well as an option to always require a password before making any purchase on the device.

When these parents first brought this lawsuit to court, Apple called for the case to be dismissed, noting the ability to turn off the in-app purchases.

US District Judge Edward Davilla has now said the parents could continue with the lawsuit, ruling the parents have a reasonable claim, given the amount of money lost by these in-app purchases. The specific cases in the case also spurred Judge Davilla to give it the go-ahead.

As told in, Niamh Bolton´s 10 year old daughter was able to run up a bill of more than $2,000 playing a game called “Tap Pet Hotel.” The game is free on the App Store, but uses in-app purchases to speed up the progress of the game.“It was more than our monthly mortgage repayment,” she told the BBC.

“We didn´t have that sort of spare cash in the bank account.”

Last year, Stephanie Kay was surprised by her 8 year old daughter with a $1400 bill for the aforementioned Smurfberries.

Madison, Kay´s daughter had purchased the Smurfberries without realizing they cost actual human dollars as opposed to virtual coins or currency.

"I thought the app preyed on children," Kay said to The Escapist.  "Note that the Smurf app states it is for ages 4-plus."