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Mother sues Google over kids’ apps after 5-year-old son buys $65 worth of virtual currency

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A New York woman whose child spent $65.95 on digital “Crystals” has filed a lawsuit on behalf of other parents across the U.S., claiming the Google Play store is full of games and apps that lure children into spending money.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday in San Francisco, claims the woman’s five-year old son spent the money while playing “Marvel Run Jump Smash!” on a Samsung Galaxy tablet, and accuses Google(s goog) of unjust enrichment and violating consumer protection laws.

The case mirrors a similar case brought against Apple(s aapl) over so-called “bait apps” that are typically free to obtain but encourage users to spend money within the game. Apple paid $5 million to settle the case in 2013 and also paid a related $32.5 million fine early this year.

In the case of Google, users typically enter a password to make a purchase, but this is not the case during a 30 minute “window” following an initial purchase. During the window period, the game maker can offer users — including children — an opportunity to buy things without re-entering the password, such as these digital treats in the “Pet Hotel” game cited in the lawsuit:

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 6.38.08 PM

As the screenshot above shows, such games can offer bulk purchases, such as 1,500 “treats” for $99.99. As a result, it is easy for kids to rack up hundreds of dollars on their parents’ credit card. The issue was the subject of a Daily Show feature, and also befell my colleague Kevin Tofel — whose daughter spent $375 on digital fish (money he will likely recoup as a result of the legal action).

Apple long ago closed its 15-minute window during which users could make purchases without entering a password. In the lawsuit against Google, however, the mother claims that the company’s 30-minute purchase window is still open. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Update: Google has reportedly pushed out an Android update that prompts users for a password at every purchase.

You can read the lawsuit, which was spotted by Law360, for yourself here:

Google App Class Action

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41 Responses to “Mother sues Google over kids’ apps after 5-year-old son buys $65 worth of virtual currency”

  1. Parents please, just don’t let your kids play with your phones or tablets. Play real games with them. Interact with them. Talk to them or the world is doomed for all of us because kids are the future of the world.

  2. I use a single-use credit card with a low dollar limit on my Google account. I don’t have small kids but this prevents hackers or evil doers from running up a huge tab on the account. It’s a small inconvenience to login and increase the credit limit on the card to cover my legit purchases, but I usually just increase it enough to buy some Google credit which is used before the credit card is hit. Both Bank of America and Citibank, among others, offer the single-use credit cards. Sometimes you just have to try and protect yourself.

    Clearly a password should be the default for every purchase with an option to choose an “open window” if a user desires it. If there is a window then the user should be reminded of that window when they enter a password. Or the window option could be presented each time the password is first entered.

  3. Jeff Teare

    When the F are Parents going to Step Up and be Parents???? This is absurd….Who let there kid have access to a tablet….The parent did because they left the setting so it could happen…..Has the world gone mad…….IT HAS long ago…parents let TV…Games…Phones…Tablets…Computers raise THEIR KIDS….”Oh my child is annoying me now”…I’ll Shove a tablet/laptop in their face so they will shut up and I can relax…There is no such thing as personal responsibility in this country anymore. The really sad part of this is that lawsuits like this no longer surprise or shock me…It has become the norm. If this happened when I was growing up my parents would spank me (now kids call DCF and you get arrested) and punish me (now parents do want their child scarred for life because they might feel bad)….This is the Sue Happy Wussification of America…I would like to bend this parent over my knee and spank her azz and tell her to grow the F up and be a responsible parent!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Dariush Saberi

    Few weeks ago, I was also shocked when I noticed my credit card is charged 3 times for games with a total amount of 30 USD. My 5 years old son was playing with his Galaxy tablet and as it was my Google account, my card was charged. How can I join the lawsuit group? I am sure there are many other parents from all over the world who encountered similar situation.

    • Jeff Teare

      How can you be a responsible parent and not leave YOUR Tablet unlocked for your kid to have unfettered access to cost you money???? Why don’t you ask yourself that question???? Grow up and be a Parent!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. A better way to avoid entering the password would be for Google and Apple NOT to store the credit card information in their files at all. Why not go back to enter your credit card information IF YOU WANT TO BUY instead of password ?

  6. brian m

    The password should be tied to the credit card/payment method not the device, for example it should always be different to the password to access the machine and the last 4 digits added as username.

    Easy of purchase is currently there for the benefits of the sellers not users.

  7. We’ve lost our bearings and our sense of personal responsibility. First, stop letting your five year old play with $500 tech. If you’re so keen on your kid playing with tech, buy some age-appropriate, rugged-ized and “safe” tech. Next, stop trusting some random game developer with your kid’s state of mind. I’d watch my little one play a game for a few minutes at least to make sure the game really met MY standards.

    Or…wait…why not give your child your wallet at a toy store, walk away for 30 minutes, then sue the store for the damages. Well….when you put it like that….

    Think about it. Most of us over the age of 30 didn’t grow up playing with our parents things – certainly not our parents wallets and purses. Yet, we let our kids play with our adult tech; today’s version of our parents’ wallets. What would you expect to happen?

    Frankly, I’m amazed every time I see a family in a restaurant with the parents giving over their smartphones to a kid to play games. Really?

  8. chilero

    Imagine if some company built a special kid only type section that permitted the child to play apps/games chosen by the parent but the ability to purchase anything was disabled. You could hand the phone to your child and have them simply swipe left to bring up “their” apps and games. They wouldn’t need your password, nor would they have access to any of your stuff. Wouldn’t that be nice? Oh wait … Windows Phone

  9. trainass

    So the mother is trying to take the blame off of herself and place it on Google. If my daughter bought a bunch of crap while playing a game on my phone or tablet, it’s not Google to blame, it’s me. This ranks right up there with the morons who rack up thousands of dollars in charges by tethering their phone to their PC and streaming/downloading movies/movies/tv shows. Time for this lady put her big girl panties on, and take responsibility for her actions. Or lack of, in this case.

        • Jeff Teare

          Generation ME….What is in it for ME…..It is all about ME….I am growing tired of reading about DUMB parents….I live in AZ and read about little children drowning in their own pool EVERY DAY because parents are to busy being self important ME to watch their own kids…Who do you sue then when your child is dead because YOUR OWN STUPIDITY…”Johnny go play in the middle of Interstate 40 I’m busy texting my girlfriend” Give ME MONEY for being STUPID ME!!!

      • Jeff Teare

        Really??????????????? You are kidding me right??? NO …..It is the parent being man or woman just being LAZY….If a New TV had all sorts of passwords and setting just to turn it on I bet you they would take the time to figure it out!!!!…Do you leave your cable box wide open to the whole family being able to order PORN PAY PER VIEW??? How about if they removed all PIN #s from debit cards so anyone could empty your bank account….You would be screaming bloody murder that the bank is being irresponsible not having security measures and letting anyone steal your money….Same thing…What is even More Insulting is that you have called a Whole Generation of Women DUMB & IGNORANT!!!…That is YOU not me doing it….because I know you will say that was not my intention….but that is what YOU are really saying when you state that not all Women are tech savvy

      • Jeff Teare

        Wait…this is clearly a parent being deceptively ignorant….”Here Johnny why don’t you play with my wallet full of CASH in the Candy Store while I talk on the phone to my friend about nonsense so I don’t have to be a RESPONSIBLE Parent for 2 minutes”…Stupid!!!

  10. BenjaminGilead

    I’m all rooting for this lawsuit, as much as I like Google, they should know that if it involves money user should be asked for password first, always.

      • Fernando Olmos

        But you would have to when opening up your bank account and you would have to enter a “password” in the form of a PIN when purchasing using your credit card (up to a limit of $30 I believe). So why shouldn’t you enter a password when purchasing an app?
        Google or any other merchant agent must give the consumer the dreaded “Are You Sure Y/N” prompt or password field every time. It’s as simple as that.

      • Armand Mey

        To be honest I prefer the annoyance of entering a password than to trust someone getting a-hold of my phone and starts to play games and then starts buying game credits on my behalf. Especially if it comes to children, since they do not always know the difference between right and wrong no matter how much you teach, If you are young, you don’t know the worth of money until it goes through your bank, so unfortunately they will click on the buy button without knowing the consequences to what they just did.

    • The default setting does ask the user to enter their password!!!!! The setting must have been disabled. Parents need to become informed and take responsibility not put the blame on Google. Learn to use the device properly first and don’t blame others for your, or your child’s actions!!!

  11. BenjaminGilead

    As much as I like Google I want this lawsuit to push through. Google should know that if it involves money user should always be asked for password first.

    • The parent explicitly disabled the requirement to ask for a password for every purchase and then was mad when Google didn’t ask for a password.

      “At the moment the 30-minute window can be avoided by going into the Settings menu of the Google Play Store and checking the option to “use password to restrict purchases.” That will force the user to input their password, even for in-app purchases on a newly-downloaded game. In fact, this is the default behavior for Google Play – Imber-Gluck must have disabled it herself through the menu or one of the in-app purchase popup dialogs in order to open up the 30-minute window. “

        • Isn’t that kind of the point with being a journalist, i.e. research?

          Take an Android phone, create a Google account, add a payment method, observe the result?

          That said, the way it’s set up is not very transparent, so a previous device where it was disabled may migrate to a new device.

        • joequincy

          You should, perhaps, re-read the page you linked. It says (and, as an Android user, I can happily confirm):

          -Password protection is default on most devices (layman’s speak for Android 2.x+)
          -If password protection is turned on, the Play Store requires a password to be entered before executing a monetary transaction. (Free apps are downloaded without such a transaction, for the record)
          -Once that password has been entered, it need not be entered again for the following 30 minutes.

          So in order for her child to have made the purchases, the mother must have willingly entered the password, then failed to monitor her child’s subsequent purchases… Or the child must have entered the password, in which case, the mother should choose a better password.

          I have tested multiple times since I first heard about the Apple case all those months ago. Google’s system is not at fault here.

          • Gregg Johnson

            And now that you’ve gone to the trouble of writing all that, I assume you realize that what the article and the mother claims is in fact true, yes? For 30 minutes after purchasing a game (and entering a password for that purchase), any user of the phone can make further purchases without entering the password again.