Canadians blame parents for children’s in-app purchases

By David Boughton

Children using their parents’ phones is nothing new. But what happens when a child racks up tens or hundreds of dollars of purchases while using downloaded applications?

That’s the question an Angus Reid public opinion poll asked Canadians this month[1]

Many applications today use a freemium model, which means they are free to download but offer extra purchases while playing. Often these purchases do not require an extra password, so children can charge the accounts without parents knowing.

About half of Canadians have freemium apps. No surprise, millennials download them most often, while the frequency drops as age rises. While many have never experienced these unwanted charges, 14% of respondents have had a child or a child of a close friend make a purchase without parental consent.

When children aged 4-10 purchase without permission, who is responsible? Most Canadians (62%) believe it’s the parents, while others blame the app store (24%), the app development company (11%), and even the children (3%). Interestingly, people who’ve experienced an unwanted purchase by a child are less likely to blame parents. They are also about 5 times more likely to blame the children than those who have never experienced an unauthorized charge.

Opinions on the proposed solutions vary. In the United States, Amazon, Google, and Apple were forced to pay $100 million in refunds to parents. The Federal Trade Commission argued the app stores did not have sufficient safeguards against unauthorized purchases. Although Canadians more frequently blame parents, they tend to agree with the American results that held companies responsible. 75% of people polled believe games for children should not have in-app purchases.

However, Canadians are less likely to hold the government responsible, with only 48% looking for more regulation. People who frequently purchase freemium apps are even less likely to want government regulation. This seems natural since these people are more likely to hold developers, app stores, and children responsible.

These unauthorized purchases by children are continuing to frustrate parents. Ideally, polls like this will help find solutions, yet the question remains: is it the parents, the government, the developers, or the app stores who are responsible?

[Photo Credit: Andreas Eldh]

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