The Difference Between Bad and Illegal

An article came to my attention from the Australian Business News about “kids racking up huge bills on mobile games”. The story covers a nine year old girl who downloaded hundreds of dollars in virtual items to her parents’ account. I encourage parents to read it just to be aware of the issues. The full article is available here ==> The consumer group represented in the article calls the situation a scam, and advocates for urgent regulation.

One of the apps being discussed has a girls’ shopping and dating theme, and is rated 12+ for content unsuitable for children under 12. When I looked at the app description, I was able to locate the Top In App Purchases which ranged from $1.99 to $49.99 for items like cash and coins. Also in the app description were  phrases like “Are you addicted to shopping? Do you dream of being a supermodel? Love to date guys? Become the top girl!”

Given I have a 9 year old and this app is rated 12+, my answer is “No, we don’t dream of being supermodels and we are too young to date guys.” For our family, this app would be a bad choice. By taking the time to read the app description, I was able to gather enough information to make a decision about the app’s appropriateness.

If the app slipped by, and I was confronted with a large bill, would taking someone to jail make up for my lack of vigilance? Bad content will exist as long as the Internet is alive, and my role as a parent is to stay informed (learning lessons along the way).

I think the issue here is whether I have enough tools to stay informed, and if those tools are simple or tricky.

I’m especially interested in what others think. What is your view on the difference between a bad business practice and an illegal activity? Those viewpoints could have quite an impact on how the mobile marketplace shapes up, and it’s going to take a group effort to shape it appropriately.

Thanks Esa Helttula of  for taking the time to share this article in our developer forum. Knowing what’s controversial helps the content creators make better apps. 

10 Replies to “The Difference Between Bad and Illegal”

  1. Thanks for bringing this. As a parent, it is really annoying practices. I *try* to transform this as a lesson for my kids and explain them how it works but of course they are just kids…. also I try to limit this kind of free download with IAP (but sometimes they want the smurf/Simpsons app and I understand that and I just told them that we’ll not buy IAPS)

    As of people creating this kind of apps, I would blame the institutions (the legal system) rather than these people. If there is something that is not illegal and is very profitable, there will always be some people doing it – we can’t ask all the people to behave ethically especially when we are in a system where money is so much important (just think that even banks behave unethically). So the solution would be to limit this kind of things (such as laws for Casinos…). It seems that IAPs can really stimulate addictions as Casinos do. By the way, I read that a kind of IAP was forbidden in Japan because it was too much like a Casino (when buying this kind of IAP you don’t know what you would get – it’s a surprise)

  2. I agree that this is an opportunity for a teachable moment. It is a lesson for parents (teachers) that by doing our job we are not setting our children up for failure, but also there are all kinds of traps out there for our children to fall into. Teaching them to be wise consumers and trustworthy individuals are all part of the critical survival lessons we must teach. Moral responsibilities to our communities as business owners could also be a topic for discussion and that not everything that is wrong is illegal.

  3. Important topic indeed & i totally agree with Pierre.

    When bumping into issues like that i’m asking my self what can i do to regulate the type of content we/ our kids are consuming.

    Do we need to have those special tablets for kids only like Toys R Us, Archos, etc.. ?
    Or to use special platforms like that knows how to filter out bad content & lock the kid in a special zone in your tablet?

    1 thing is for sure- tablets usage by kids is exponentially increasing. How can we, the parents, function as a better “filter” for whaat are kids consumes?

    other thoughts?

  4. @Yam, I don’t think we want to fall into filter traps. We need to be better navigators. We probably need to expose the kids to “bad” content more often while sitting in parallel with them to provide them with the lesson about how to learn to navigate, rather than blocking it out completely. If an “online” life is becoming ubiquitous, then we need to encourage tools and curriculum to stay “healthy”, just like PE. In the same vein, public pressure on the companies to make features and rating systems visibile and clear to consumers is helpful. Everyone has a role.

  5. Mary Weronko is right on! We don’t need more laws, but men and women of character. Let’s be honest. Charging $100 for additional playing pieces in a game is immoral. Period!

    I raised my son (now a 30-year-old) to be a moral being who weighs things against what is right, not what is legal. Parents have the perfect opportunity to teach their kids something of value. Something that child psychologists say is better than a 4.0 as a measure of success in their future. Look at what little Sylvie learned. Priceless!

    “Be careful! Be careful what games you play!”

  6. A lot of people don’t read the app description unfortunately. I added a options button to my app, so parents could lock out certain features. I made the option button so you had to hold it down for 5 seconds before it would show the options. I didn’t want to put how to do it in the app any where, so put it on the app description. I am now getting 1 star reviews saying the option button is broken.


  7. @Dave, that’s a good point. We are all hoping that Apple and the various app stores will make disclosures and features easier to read prior to download. It’s the main focus, actually, behind the privacy efforts we’ve embarked upon the past year: The problem is, even if a dev uses this icon, where do they put it so the consumer will see it? Coordination between the platform providers, consumers and developers is necessary.

  8. I don’t think we need more regulation on this. We need people taking responsibility. I remember when I was 11, I saw an ad on TV during the afternoon for a calligraphy set. The way the ad was worded, I thought I was just going to get sent a brochure about it. Of course, that’s not what happened. The set came COD. My dad paid for it, I never saw it. But I learned a valuable lesson. It seems that some parents want to put all the onus on the business owner instead of that old idea of being responsible for your children and their actions (to a point of course). As parents, we need to teach our children how to navigate these types of situations. We need to teach them how to decide what apps make sense, how to interpret the descriptions in the app store. They need a budget and they need to learn to not exceed that budget. They also have to learn that there are consequences when they make a bad choice.

    Regulation is not the answer here. As long as you can tell by the app description what the app is and what it’s going to cost, how it works etc, then it should be up to the consumer to decide whether to purchase it or not. It’s up to me as the consumer to decide if the item for sale is worth the price. I don’t want a law specifying what things should cost. True and proper disclosure is absolutely important, but teaching our children to read those disclosures and how to interpret them is important too.

  9. Have you looked at the new iOS 6 launched this week for iPhones, iPads, iPods? It has a nifty feature….From MacWorld online:

    “The biggest new feature in the Accessibility screen is Guided Access mode. When enabled, Guided Access keeps the iOS device in the current app and lets you control which features are available. To activate Guided Access for an app, you just triple-press the Home button; this enters a setup mode where you draw circles around each area on the screen you don’t want to be accessible–for example, a Settings button. Tap Options to disable touch or the device’s accelerometer (hardware buttons are always disabled when Guided Access is activated). Click Start and the app is protected. To exit Guided Access, you again triple-press the Home button and then enter your Guided Access passcode. Though intended to help those with accessibility difficulties, this feature is also useful for parents looking to limit their iOS device to a single app and to restrict access to particular features.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *