Hot Docs: Apple accused of creating child "app addicts"

April 21, 2011

app-dictsApple has been called many things, from creative and innovative to bullying and anticompetitive.

However, I doubt it expected to be labeled “drug dealer.”

The allegations of a recently-filed complaint amount to such, although those specific words are not used.

The class-action complaint charges that Apple intentionally targets minors with appealing games that are designed to be addictive; these games are free or at a nominal charge.

Once the kid starts playing the game and they get hooked, the game induces kids to spend money on in-game currency.

The complaint comes from an aggrieved parent whose kid spent over $200 on such purchases in the games “Zombie Café,” “Treasure Story” and “City Story.” The complaint also cites a recent news story about another minor who spent over $1,400 in the game “Smurfs’ Village.”

Of course, since these transactions were entered with minors, they are voidable at the option of the minor, and such would return the funds to the purchasers’ parent(s).

And that’s what the complaint asks for, in addition to attorney’s fees under several California deceptive trade practice theories.

Hot Doc: Meguerian v. Apple Inc.

Source: Westlaw News & Insight – National Litigation

Advertising and marketing to kids is nothing new. It is as old as modern advertising itself, and has been on the rise since the 80’s.

It’s been successful for a variety of psychological reasons, most prominently because of a minor’s limited impulse control and understanding of finances.

Nevertheless, online games add a whole new element to the issue.

With traditional advertising, children have no option or power to directly purchase what is being advertised. Parents are the monetary “gatekeepers.”

With these apps, children can bypass their parents’ “gate” and indulge themselves as they wish.

In fact, until earlier this year, there was a 15-minute window after one’s Apple ID and password were entered for a purchase that the password didn’t need to be reentered to make additional purchases.

This allowed a minor to get his parent to enter the password for the free game, and then let the kid playing it to make in-game purchases to his heart’s content.

Just because this “window” is not closed, the problem isn’t necessarily solved, since many kids know their parent’s Apple password.

While this may be a problem easily solved by increased parental monitoring of children, legally requiring parents to do so may be an unreasonably high standard and run into constitutional challenges.

And, as many parents will tell you, it’s already challenging enough to monitor their children’s online activities without having to worry about whether a game their kid is playing is trying to rack up a sizeable bill on their credit card.

Though the more austere parents will maintain that the plaintiff should have been watching his kids more closely, legally, the fact remains that these purchases are voidable contracts with minors.

Thus, even if Apple and these game developers wish to continue turning kids into “app-dicts,” they will still have to bring the parents into the picture somehow;

Otherwise, they will find themselves needing a “refund app.”