Kids & The Apple App Store

It’s a reality that our kids are growing up in a very tech-heavy era, and the speed that they can grasp how things work can leave many adults in the dust! Online app stores such as what Apple or Android provide can host a multitude of child-friendly games that are easily portable and quick to start up to fill brief gaps of time where one may need a speedy distraction.

However some caregivers who may not be as tech-savvy as others have fallen to a particular flaw with Apple’s App Store: the dreaded accidental In-App Purchase (IAP).

The key thing caregivers and parents must remember is that these games intend to make a profit, fairly or not, and it’s no different when a child-friendly game is free to download. Many games target the impulsiveness of children and charge extra fees (some very “cheap”, some astonishingly expensive) for players to buy in-game rewards that will “boost” the playing experience (by making progress easier) so a player will more quickly develop a feeling of satisfaction and sense of achievement.

Many games make it incredibly easy to impulsively tap once and buy these rewards instantly, barely impacting the gameplay session. A person may not even catch until too late that a real money transaction has taken place, and a young child certainly doesn’t notice at all. You may have heard horror stories of parents who checked their credit card bill or received an email receipt days later from Apple (they are never sent instantly) totaling hundreds of dollars in IAPs. And Apple will not always be happy to refund that money either!

Some people may scoff and blame inattentive parents and caregivers, but the reality is that Apple is less secure than Android in terms of IAPs and App Store security. By default, Apple products will allow open access to App Store purchases, and once you input your Apple ID password, you can buy anything in the next 15 minutes using your device without being prompted for a password again (unlike Android, which will always require one). A parent could, for example, enter their password to download a free game for their child and let them play immediately, and their child in turn can then buy IAPs en masse in the next 15 minutes and run up quite a bill!

While it’s up to individual parents and caregivers to decide when is the appropriate time to teach a child the value of money and concepts of cost vs. reward, there are few technical things you can do if you still wish to let children play on your Apple device and also make sure your finances are safe.

1. Do not share your Apple ID password or 4-digit device passcode with your child. 

Children are clever and can be sneaky, so denying them your passwords means they must come to you and ask permission to access your devices. Even if you trust your kids with your device passcode, not sharing the Apple ID password will be a good way to quickly learn what apps are prompting for additional payment and whether they’re worth keeping.

2. Enable password prompts for ALL purchases immediately.

Go to Settings > General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions > Require Password > Immediately. This will disable the default 15 minute free-for-all window and require a password at each purchase attempt, and is very useful for preventing mishaps with grown-ups and kids alike!

3. Turn off In-App Purchases.

Go to Settings > General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions > swipe OFF under In-App Purchases. You will still be able to buy from the App Store, but purchases in-game are disabled so any attempts (whether by intent or by mistake) are prevented.

4. Put your device in Airplane Mode or disable Cellular Data/WiFi before giving the device to your child.

a) Go to Settings > swipe ON for Airplane Mode. Quickest and easiest method to turn off the Internet connections for all access points so payments cannot be made. Not ideal for phones as it will also shut off incoming calls and texts, but great for devices such as iPods or iPads.

b) Go to Settings > General > Cellular > swipe OFF for Cellular Data. This will turn off internet access via your wireless data provider but still allows calls and texts.

c) Go to Settings > Wi-Fi > swipe OFF for Wi-Fi. This disables internet connection via your personal Wi-Fi network.

5. Link your App Store account to a gift card instead of your regular credit card.

This way you will still have money to use for purchases you wish to authorize, but will limit the damage from any accidental access/purchases to a specific and finite amount.