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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Apple Sued by Pissed-Off Parents

Posted By on Tue, Apr 12, 2011 at 5:20 PM

There is no such thing as a free smurfberry
  • There is no such thing as a free smurfberry

Parents across the country have banded together to sue Apple, claiming the Cupertino-based company has given kids carte blanche to rack up charges on mom and dad's credit cards by buying online games without authorization.

Garen Meguerian, a Pennsylvania father of two, is suing on behalf of all duped parents who say they were screwed over by the company and its marketing schemes that targeted children.

In a lawsuit filed in San Jose, Meguerian says he permitted his kids, aged 12 and 9, to download from iTunes a handful of free gaming apps, including Zombie Cafe and Treasure Story. But what he didn't know was that they then purchased "virtual supplies" including ammunition, fruits and vegetables, and cash -- all things they would need to play the game with any success.

For instance, Smurfs' Village is free to download. However, the object of the game is to build a virtual village, and you need "smurfberries" to quickly build it. The kids are then induced to buy the virtual berries, which cost real money.

And guess what? Smurfberries cost as much as $59.

Apple requires all users to enter a password prior to purchasing content

or buying a game. Until recently, a password was good for 15 minutes at a time, meaning a parent could enter it and then hand the device to their kid to download a free game. According to the lawsuit, though, kids were also able to approve purchases of online content during that time window.

In one click, these minors were spending $99 or more without having to re-enter a password. The result is that Apple is pocketing millions of dollars from these transactions while parents think their kids are playing free games.

Anyone who is at least 13 can open an account to buy content from Apple. Users then supply a credit card number or PayPal account, from which Apple automatically draws funds.

"Many games, by design, are highly addictive, and are developed strategically to induce purchases of Game Currency," the claim states.

The Federal Trade Commission has confirmed it will investigate this bait-and-switch by mobile gaming companies that advertise free content, but then entice players to use their credit cards to purchase virtual goods.

And virtual goods ... they don't grow on trees.

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About The Author

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert was the Online News Editor for SF Weekly from 2010 to 2015. She's a Texas native and has a closet full of cowboy boots to prove it.


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