What does Apple need to do to stop kids from spending their parents' money on IAP?

App Store
App Store (Image credit: iMore)

It's a story that seems to crop up with alarming regularity. A UK man has had to sell the family car because his kid managed to rack up a $1,800 Apple bill by buying in-app purchases in games. It's happened to other people in the past and, unfortunately, it'll happen again in the future. Unless Apple makes changes, that is.

Now, I know what you're saying. Apple already has parental controls in place and yes, there are mechanisms in place that ensure a kid can't make purchases without first receiving the approval of an adult. It's what we do with the iPhone and iPad my kids have — nobody can even download a free app or game without my wife or me giving it the thumbs up. But that only works if your kid has their own device. And their own Apple ID. And doesn't know their Apple ID password.

In this case, none of that was the case. The child appears to have memorized his father's password when looking over his shoulder. There isn't a great deal Apple can do here and this situation, I'm afraid, is 100% on the parent and child. At least for now.

It's unlikely to happen with iPhones, but this is a great example of why user accounts on an iPad could be so handy — with the required user controls and child restrictions, of course.

There is of course one way this could have been avoided, and it's something we should all be doing as a matter of course. The fact the son — aged just seven — was able to memorize his father's password tells you one thing. That password's way too short and too easy to remember. If that password had been a secure one, with special character mixed in, none of this would have happened. The parent probably wouldn't have known the password either if they'd been using something like the excellent 1Password or even iCloud Keychain.

Playing with an iPad

Playing with an iPad (Image credit: iMore)

I know this might all sound like a case of victim-blaming and sure, in some instances, I think it might be. That's because in this case at least, it seems like all of this was avoidable. And so easily at that! But it's all about education.

Education of the parents, that is. Too many people don't understand the basics of how their devices work, what they're capable of, and where things can go wrong. They don't know about basic password hygiene and they probably don't care when you try to explain it. That, again, is on them. Apple can only do so much.

Which brings me to the question I asked in the headline — what does Apple need to do to stop kids from spending their parents' money? In this case, not a lot. But a better onboarding experience that explains how to keep kids from spending money via Family Sharing might help others, as would better explainers on Apple's website. Let's not forget multi-user iPad support while we're at it!

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Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.