Since when is it okay to blame companies for negligent parenting? Oh, right. As far back as I can remember it has been a practice of this country to sue for our own ignorance. Let me explain. While watching Fox news (KTTV 11 in Los Angeles) there was a story about a class action lawsuit being brought against Apple by a group of parents who feel Apple [mis]led them into believing games such as Zombie Farm and Tap Fish were free after finding hundreds of dollars had been charged to their credit cards through in-game purchases by their children. Mike Boni, the attorney on the segment, went on record stating that some of the games are created for children as young as four and while they cannot read, they can operate mobile devices. Well then, the natural progression is to sue Apple because they are duping children into spending their parents’ money. How dare you Apple?
I understand children are not legally bound by contractual obligations – it is beat into our heads from very young that we are minors until we hit the grand old age of 18 – so I will grant you a child may not know, or more importantly comprehend, what they are doing when they tap the “Enter” or “Okay” button of a pop up screen in a game. Any gamer can tell you we want to get back to the game we are enjoying as quickly and painlessly as possible. Fantastic! I will stipulate to the previous statements, we agree, got it…moving on.
Why is Apple responsible because the parent who downloaded the free app failed to comprehend the conditions and terms of doing so? There is this funny little thing known as a EULA (End-User License Agreement) and we all have to select “Agree” before anything is downloaded. Typically, it lays out what the user (ahem, You) are agreeing to when you tap on the “Agree” button. I know, I know. No one actually reads those damn things. Again, is this the company’s fault? Perhaps reading these agreements, even skimming them, would be a more prudent approach.
Parents are arguing the ease with which children accept the transactions is a major contributing factor. Anyone who has an account with iTunes knows you save your credit card information to your account for faster checkout. Credit cards are not a requirement however. Users can choose to pay per transaction or session or preload the account with iTunes gift cards. Additionally, there are parental control options these parents are clearly not using.
It has also been argued these games are targeted and marketed at children; to some extent they are. Children are not buying iPads, smartphones and computers. The apps and games are targeted at parents with children. It takes mere minutes to read the description of a game and look for additional purchasable items.
Here is the problem I have in a nutshell – lack of personal responsibility. I find it disgusting when parents blame others for their negligent or ignorant parenting. I’m a busy parent too. I have the days when saying “Yes” to hours of video gaming distraction is easier than finding more inventive ways to entertain and less frustrating than a series of interruptions because they are bored or hungry or bored and hungry. The convenience should not excuse us from our obligation to pay attention to what we are putting in front of them. We would never dream of handing over the keys to our car to our precious 13-year-old yet we will hand over a mobile phone, tablet or computer to our 6-year-old without batting an eye. Most people have already responded, “That’s different!” Is it? Granted you can argue no one can get hurt or die from giving your babies an iPod to play a friendly game of Smurfs Village but, ask the parents working overtime to pay their credit card bills if it isn’t hurting. Ask the parents of the young girls who have been preyed upon by pedophiles online if no one is getting hurt. Why would you so blindly hand over tools with access to your money and more?
Putting the emotional part aside for a moment, Apple should not be held responsible because the game or app is listed as a free app. I am not an attorney but it seems to me the contractual arrangements are straightforward. The games are, in fact, free-to-play. The additional charges incurred are if the gamer wants to enhance the experience. It is like going to Disneyland. You pay your ticket to go on the rides, you accept the lines, the rules for each [experience] and put away the memories and photos. If you choose to buy a memento from the gift shop or put food in your belly at one of the overpriced cafes that, my friend, is on you. And yes, it is the same thing. Since children are minors, parents are responsible for what they do and giving them access to your credit card is the same thing as making the transaction yourself.
Personally, I feel the issue is cut and dry. Unfortunately I am wrong. I was taught that ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law. In other words, the “I didn’t know” defense does not fly. Today, it is the first words uttered when people find themselves in situations such as staring down a $1,500 charge they cannot afford to pay. Apple has helped some of the families by refunding the charges. I wonder what message is being sent to the child whose parent has more time to fight a credit card bill than they do for the child left alone long enough to rack up those charges.
Here is the video that prompted my response: