If there’s ever a stronger case for monitoring your kid’s device usage, look no further than the story of little Madison Kay, an 8-year-old from Maryland who unknowingly had a veritable shopping spree in Smurfs’ Village on her mom’s iPhone. According to the Washington Post, Madison accessed the incredibly popular game (which is a FREE download in iTunes, by the way) and merrily played as it is to be played, racking up quite a bill in the process - $1,400 to be exact.
The premise of the game is that you’re helping build a village from the ground up and creating a nice place for the Smurfs to live. Kids love to accomplish things, so it makes sense that they would want their gardens to be lush and their houses to be homey. Where the trouble lies is when kids go into the Smurfberry shop and with a couple taps, spend $99.99 for a wagon of berries to help their crop reach its fullest potential. If your child somehow knows your password to break through that simple barrier, well, it’s pretty easy to reach that $1,400 mark.
And why would a kids’ game have such opportunity for little hands to wreak such financial havoc? Good question. I downloaded the game myself and although a pop-up appeared when I first loaded the game informing me that “Smurfberry” purchases would be charged to my iTunes account, I didn’t see that message again after logging back in. It does appear in fine print at the “Store” page, but who reads the fine print of a smartphone game? An 8-year-old kid certainly doesn’t.
Cases like these are cropping up all over the place – another story recently surfaced of a boy in the UK who accidentally charged £1,000 (US $1,600) to his mom’s credit card through his Xbox Live console.
In the Washington Post article, Jim Styer, president of Common Sense Media, a national advocacy group dedicated to the safety of families in today’s digital age, is quoted as saying,
"Parents need to know that the promotion of games and the delivery mechanism for them are deceptively cheap. But basically people are trying to make money off these apps, which is a huge problem, and only going to get bigger because mobile apps are the new platform for kids."
So, does the responsibility lie on the parents or on the game developers? Clearly, both. Parents need to be more mindful of what their kids are doing on these devices (and kids don’t need to know your passwords), but developers need to also make it much harder for these types of occurrences to happen. Gaming is a big business and there’s clearly a bottom line that these companies need to meet (or exceed), but using games that are targeted at little kids is not the way to do it.