Is Apple REALLY family-friendly or does it just want you to think it is?

Is Apple REALLY family-friendly or does it just want you to think it is?

Summary: Could it really be so important to keep every cent that Apple has sent a team of lawyers to fight against refunding a few misleading in-app purchases made by little children?

TOPICS: Apple, Apps

It's a weird paradox. Apple has gone out of its way to filter adult applications and content from its iOS shelves, presumably to protect our children's sensitive little eyes. And yet, Apple is going to court once again to fight for the company's right to dupe kids into unwittingly spending big bucks inside kid-focused iOS apps.

Of course, there's a lot of money to be made from in-app purchases. According to a chart on Business Insider, just about half of Apple's app revenue comes from in-app purchases. That, by almost any measure, makes Apple's in-app purchase a billion dollar revenue stream.

Some parents want to reduce Apple's in-app take, claiming that at least part of that money was acquired by allowing app makers to trick little kids into spending considerable amounts on virtual purchases.

This all goes back to a class action case from last year. While in-app purchases require a password, Apple used to allow a 15-minute window where -- right after an app was downloaded -- virtual purchases were allowed without a password.

It worked in this particularly scummy way. An app vendor would advertise a free app, say one that lets you feed fish. This might attract the attention of a child, who asks Mommy or Daddy if she can download it.

Mommy and Daddy might have thought they were protected, because they know in-app purchase require passwords. So, let's say Daddy allows his little girl to download an aquarium app. Now, a 15-minute timer starts.

This is where the big bucks were made. Anything offered could be purchased within that 15-minute window without requiring an additional password entry. So if the little girl downloaded the app and wanted fish, or pearls that make fish, or fish food, all the app had to do was convince the kid to tap something and ... boom! ... a very real charge of $375 hit the family's credit card, as Kevin Tofel told it last year.

As it turns out, Apple has since closed that loophole. However, the class action lawsuit continues. Apple has been trying to get the lawsuit thrown out of court, but last month, a District Court judge ruled the case can go to trial.

Let's assign blame, shall we?

Blame the app makers

First, we need to assign a whole pile of blame to the scummy app makers who figured out they could make bank by suckering kids into buying virtual goods right as they enter the app.

Sure, the argument could be made that adults download or approve app downloads, but when these app makers made apps with cutesy little kid themes, you know they were very well aware of who their audience was.

No matter how you slice it, it's a predatory move.

Blame Apple

Next, let's look at Apple. Sure, Apple didn't go out and evangelize developers to steal money from kids. But they did design a system with a relatively measurable vulnerability.

Apple is arguing its astonishingly long terms of service protect it from this sort of litigation (have you tried reading that monstrosity on a smartphone?). The fact is, those terms and conditions are used -- and have always been used by sneaky lawyers -- to obscure a whole pile of predatory rules that no one in their right mind would ever agree with, if they were presented in some truly consumable fashion.

Interestingly, even with a terms of service almost rivaling the new health care act in obfuscation and length, the judge in California pretty much slapped Apple down and told the company to prepare for court.

So, perhaps it wasn't truly, legally Apple's fault (although at least one judge seems to disagree), but it was certainly Apple's fault technically. One could further argue it was also Apple's fault for hiding such important information in the small print.

Blame the parents

How could this possibly be the parents' fault? To be honest, I still don't understand how you would think giving a little kid an iPhone or an iPad is a good idea. When I was a kid, my parents required that pretty much everything they gave me to play with had to be built to military specifications for indestructibility. Otherwise I'd wind up breaking it (or taking it apart to see how it worked).

But let's assume that parents today feel safe giving kids little $200-$500 glass smartphones and tablets to play with. Could they have taken more responsibility for the in-app purchases?

To some degree, yes. Every one of us should read those terms and conditions, although I'm sure most of us don't. More to the point, I would recommend that parents don't just let kids download apps, but be willing to spend at least the first half hour with the kid, exploring the app together.

Of course, I'm not a parent, so what do I know?

So, what about that porn paradox?

Here's fundamentally where Apple's going about this thing the wrong way. And it's all about marketing, not the law.

If Apple cares so much about making their devices family friendly, they should stand behind that claim.

The bottom-line is that the parents in this class action suit trusted Apple to provide a safe platform. When an aspect of that platform turned out to be unsafe, and, in fact, predatory, Apple didn't rush to the aid of the parents. Instead, Apple pointed to its terms of service and walked away.

This is where Apple dropped the ball. Furthermore, by trying to get the case thrown out of court, Apple is again saying it's not willing to put its billions where its mouth is.

I mean, seriously, isn't Apple rolling around in so many billions, it doesn't know what to do with it all? Could it really be so important to keep every cent of it that they have to send a team of lawyers out to fight against refunding a few misleading in-app purchases made by little children?

Apple wants people to think it's family friendly, but apparently draws the line at being friendly to families.

Topics: Apple, Apps


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Complete Agreement

    Apple tries to pull the same family friendly crap as Disney does. In reality, it's all a marketing ploy. Not to say that the marketing ploy is a horrible one, just that it's a gimmick.

    As far as the fight that Apple had, they had a choice to start a war between their consumers or their developers. Apple apparently defends their developers no matter how sleazy they can be. This is disappointing, but to attack their developers would tarnish their app approval process.
    • I wouldn't compare Apple to Disney

      Going to Disney World, you expect things to cost money, and at least you'ree getting something tangable out of it. And they don't offer it as "free".

      Beyond that, I agree with your assesment of Apple and their developers.
      William Farrel
      • I see our "mysterious" flagger is back

        I guess he just doesn't want some people expressing their opinions.
        William Farrel
  • Lack of New Displays For The iPad

    It is Because of Their Lack,According to Research Firm Sterne Agee,The Production Of gadgets Not Yet Come to Full Capacity,Even at very High Demand for New Plates.
  • Hey, this stinks...

    Apples, rocks, nor corporations have a conscience--only people do. There are "liners", that are really close calls and checking with the lawyers is no help. Sure it may be in the contract, but at some point you have to have a leadership that can say, "Hey, this stinks (is unconscionable)--we need to find a way to do business and still do the right thing."
    Reggie S
    • Bingo

      Any company the size of Apple gets sued somewhere in the world 20 times a day. Unless one of the lawsuits creates headlines, the Legal Department makes them go away. Once a quarter the legal guys probably put up a Powerpoint slide listing all the suits that might cost over ten million if they lose. Other than that, company management doesn't even know about them.

      This article may well be the thing that alerts somebody outside the Apple legal department that the lawyers are creating a PR nightmare.
      Robert Hahn
      • Well.

        You make it sound like these legal battles happen without management approval. Don't know where you work or have worked in the past, but whether or not it goes to court, it is a management decision. The legal department is not an autonomous entity separate from the rest of the company.
      • @ultimitloozer

        No, every stupid lawsuit that comes down the pike is not reviewed by executive management. If they did that, it's all they'd have time for. In a hundred billion company, there are probably 2,000 ongoing lawsuits, with 200 more coming in every day. You really think Tim Cook reviews every one in detail and decides whether or not to go to court?

        Lawsuits are only big deals to people who don't see them very often. Once they're a routine item, they don't get any more attention than the next batch of bad capacitors that snuck in.
        Robert Hahn
    • The right thing

      In any business, the right thing is whatever generates profits without crossing the letter of the law. The only thing important to any business is maximizing profits, even if it causes direct or indirect harm to others.
      • The problem with that attitude is...

        ...that it's guaranteed to generate more and more complex laws to prevent would-be almost-thieves from gaming the system. Simpler laws and less regulation require self-restraint, to include a willingness to abide by the spirit of the law as well as the letter.
        John L. Ries
  • Deleted

  • Money, Lawyers, Tax Day, IRS, Huffington Post, Fox News, Apple and David

    Ah, David. You would make a fine reporter for the Huffington Post, that champion of all good democratic principles, political correctness and home to Pulitzer Prize winning journalists. (Although it should be noted that the Pulitzer Prize was NOT awarded for editorial or fictional works this year - a distinct disadvantage to ZDNet bloggers hoping to earn that singular professional distinction of excellence.)

    Actually, although I read content daily from both my Huffington Post and Fox News iPad apps, my philosophical sensibilities side more towards the democratic principals espoused by David and other writers that rail against the excesses of Big Business, Big Government and / or Big Anything while fighting for the dignity and well being of "the common man".

    However - there is always a "However" - Fox News, that conservative bastion of the Right Wing Republican Party and opponent of all Left Wing political correctness, provides just the right amount of reality to offer a more "balanced and fair" view of the world.

    So, I will call upon my experiences with Fox News and offer a rebuttal to my online friend's main arguments proposing that Apple's current litigation regarding the subject matter of David's blog runs counter to it's corporate image or actions pertaining to support for child computing activities.

    But first, because it's Tax Day, let me digress just a bit and offer an example from an experience common to millions with their dealings with the IRS.

    It should be noted the Tax Laws are changed every year and amendments to the Tax Code are often done on a monthly basis. "Right Thinking Folk" accept this change in the tax code and the IRS policy to implement that change as neither a good or bad thing. It's just is. Likewise, "Right Thinking Folk" should view any change in Apple's policy of in-app purchases as neither intentionally good or bad but something that any company or Government Agency, like the IRS, implements from time to time. (The outcomes for any policy changes are either beneficial or not. But the reasons they are made are almost never, ever done for philosophical reasons reflecting our moral views of good and evil.)

    Also, because the IRS could care less if your tax return was filled out incorrectly due to any reason, say ignorance of the tax code for example, "Right Thinking Folk" would never sue or blame the IRS for collecting taxes owed. They may try but then the IRS lawyers would have a field day in court.

    Of course, I will apply the above IRS example to the Apple case in question. The parents claim ignorance of the real world ramifications of in-app purchases or Apple's policies. And David blames Apple for trying to collect on money owed or for policies that allowed certain financial actions to take place. David also implies that because Apple changed it's policy that any actions that resulted before the change took place should be adjusted accordingly. IMHO, those opinions and beliefs are neither sound or correct. They are, in fact, naive and suggest a fondness for political correctness arguments bordering on demagoguery.

    Furthermore, to rebut David's main premise that Apple's implied or stated policy embodied in a corporate image viewed as beneficial towards children or family values as nothing more than an empty shallow facade, David would also need to rebut all past Apple actions regarding this hypothesis.

    For instance, David would have to counter the creation of iTunes U, the creation of the Children's section in Apple Stores, the apps championed in Apple ads benefitting children and numerous other corporate activities performed in the past as having no merit or as isolated aberrations against an established deceitful and self serving corporate policy.

    I think my online friend would find it very hard to counter all those past activities with his one dubious blog example posted today.
    • Of course people will disagree!

      Conservative viewpoint is not acceptable today, it makes too much sense. It makes the liberals tiny brains hurt.
      • *liberals'*

        Speaking of tiny brains... Try learning how to use a plural possessive. THEN you can make remarks about other people's tiny brains.
      • Thank you.

        BTW, you understand that by flagging these opinions of ours leads to the eventually erasure of our comments. Isn't Democracy by mob a grand thing!
      • And yet...

        Conservative viewpoints (both big and little "C") are all over the media and Republicans (mostly conservative ones) have a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

        Here in southern Utah, it's Democrats and liberals that are the endangered species.
        John L. Ries
    • Because all of Apple's past actions support his claim

      so he really doesn't need to say anything more. Apple does what it does to maintain the facade.

      It's never their fault, always something the end user is doing wrong.
      William Farrel
      • What Facade?

        Were it kids getting electrocuted on iPads or MacBooks go ahead bring on the attorneys. This is about unmonitored purchases, same as if you gave the kid a credit card, and for that matter it's not even just about Apple. Think of the damages done when an open account on XBox live or Playstation Store are abused by a child. This is purchasing activity which was condoned by a responsible party, and now the companies should be held accountable for THEIR children's activities?!?! Apple did close a loophole as should all companies, it's time parents do their part.
      • partman, the story's about

        [i]Is Apple REALLY family-friendly, or does it just want you to think it is?[/i]

        Sure he was using in store purchases as an example, but the question begs for an expansion on the discussion
        William Farrel
    • Whatever happened to parental responsibility?

      As the saying goes: ???The Buck stops here???. In this case it is not the governments responsibility, the responsibility of Apple or any other Mega Corporation, but the responsibility of the parents. They should be spending time with their children and the gadgets they buy them and teach them how to use those gadgets responsibly. Instead, these irresponsible parents blame everybody but themselves, when the outcome isn't what they like and it costs them money because they failed to PERSONALLY train their children properly. I hope the judge understands this, thereby throwing this case out of the courtroom.