An Apple a day

Just off the phone with Apple and support rep Tamara. Why am I a borderline Apple Fanboy (well, maybe not borderline)? Because Apple just refunded the money. All of it.

They made it clear that this is a “one time deal” but they stepped up and did the right thing.

Farmville? Still waiting. What’s next? I checked my LinkedIn account and it looks like I’m two degrees away from this guy. Believe me, I’ll make it happen.

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Sticky Fingers

Hey there iPhone owning parent who let’s their kids play ostensibly “free” games on their phone. Don’t get trapped with charges for Pearls and Hoes and who knows what kind of virtual goods your kids might buy. There is an easy (although very hidden) way to prevent your sticky fingered kids from buying stuff within an application.

First, go to your Settings and make sure you’ve got Restrictions turned on. You’ll have to provide a 4-digit code to turn on and later change restrictions.

Now in the Restrictions area make sure that In App Purchases is turned off and adjust any other Movie or Music settings you’d like to change.

That should do it.

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Where are we now?

Well, Anthony A has “gone ahead and escalated this issue to our higher billing department to protect against card usage. ” – I wrote back immediately and asked what that meant. So far (unsurprisingly) no answer.

I called the credit card company to ask about simply going on record as disputing the charges. I am not making up what they said to me:

“In order to dispute charges made by someone known to you – you would have to press formal charges against them.”

That’s correct. To dispute the charges via the credit card company I have to call the police. To say my six-year old looked a bit sheepish when I brought that up would be an understatement.

I did a little research and discovered that I am not alone in dealing with this problem. More here

It looks like FarmVille is unresponsive to the issue – time to contact Apple directly. It appears that the flaw is within the system that Apple has built and developers are simply plugging into.

I would expect that FarmVille would be a bit more in tune with the issue than they appear to be. Time to contact Apple directly.

Later – I’ll tell you how to prevent this on your iPhone

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Enter Zynga

First off – I’m a techno/web-savvy guy. Should I have known about this? How this works? How you can prevent it? Sure, yes, maybe. I’m not really sure I thought through my expectations on the matter. I guess I just assumed that downloading a free game would not allow my kid to spend money on my credit card. I was wrong. It does. I can also confirm that most iPhone owning parents I know don’t understand this either.

In the end it’s my fault for not paying attention to the entire process. Ignorance is no excuse. Still, given that 100% of the parents in the admittedly small sample that I’ve spoken too don’t know this either I would say we’ve got a problem that is going to continue.

I’ve seen a few other posts on this around the web with your typical hate-spewing anonymous commenters scolding parents for letting their “kids” “play” with an expensive electronic device. My guess – they don’t have kids.

The real issue for me right now is simply this:

I want my money back and FarmVille/Zynga doesn’t want to give it to me.

Here is the first email I sent them (knowing what I know – that I would have to publish all this – I would have tried to be wittier and more forceful etc etc etc). Of course, I thought a refund would be easy

10:00 AM EST – July 28th (quickly followed by another email with another receipt

My six year old just bought two purchases of Farmville cash on his own. I think his older brother figured out the password.

I would like the account canceled and the money refunded.

There are two purchases in question.
1) 39.99
2) 49.99

Screeenshots attached. We will not be playing the game until we see the refunds.

Response: July 31st at 3:00 AM

Hello Douglas,

Thank you for contacting Zynga.

While I understand the concern regarding charges incurred through the unauthorized use of your card, unfortunately since our records indicate that this person is known to you these charges do not meet the level of credit card fraud we would require to initiate a reversal of charges.

With your permission however, I will go ahead and put a block on the account that was used in the unauthorized transactions. This may not protect you against usage of this kind with other vendors, but it should give you some peace of mind by ensuring that the account will not be used again at Zynga.

Please respond with your approval to take this action on your behalf with the first six and last four digits of the card that was used.
Thank you for your patience.

Kind regards,
Anthony A
Zynga Customer Support

Summary: No, no money back. But we’ll be happy to make sure you don’t spend any more

My Response:

This is not acceptable.

This is a transaction that by a six year old that was unapproved by his parents.
The money is spent on goods that, although virtual, will not be used. Clearly there is no stated “No Refunds” policy anywhere in the purchase process.

I have taken steps to insure that the account will not be used – now I need you to return the money for unused goods just like any other commercial establishment.

Discover Card:
First six : xxxxxx
Last Four: xxxx
Thank you for your prompt attention to the matter.
Sincerely,
My Name

Zynga Response : August 2nd 1AM

Hello Douglas,

Thank you for contacting Zynga.

This is Anthony. I understand your frustration regarding these charges. Unfortunately, as I stated since our records indicate that this person is known to you these charges do not meet the level of credit card fraud we would require to initiate a reversal of charges.
I have provided our terms of purchase for you to look over. It states inside how all purchases are final.
Answer Title: What are Zynga’s Terms of Purchase?
Answer Link: http://zynga.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/35

I have gone ahead and escalated this issue to our higher billing department to protect against card usage.
Thank you for your patience in this matter.

Kind regards,
Anthony A
Zynga Customer Support

Ah, I see. I should have known about the terms of service that are not visible in the purchase process. I’m sure my six year old could make sense of that.

Now, I understand the difficulties with digital purchases and refunds. If I buy an MP3 or rent a movie the assumption would be that I’ve consumed the goods and it would be unwise business practice to refund them.

In this case though we have goods that, though virtual, can be returned if Zynga would allow that to happen.

Apparently, they will not allow this to happen. Perhaps this is the dirty secret of FarmVille growth?

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That’s what you get for ignoring your kid

Maybe, so what the hell happened here? Let’s go through how iTunes works shall we? The iTunes App Store is happy to save your credit card information for you – as it should. When I want to purchase something from the App Store it asks you for your password before completing the purchase. Perfectly acceptable. The interesting thing is that you also must supply your password for free applications so, when I downloaded FarmVille for the kid I put the password in to start the download. Here’s a picture of the iTunes store asking for my password:

But now that the application is on my machine – if I want to purchase something from INSIDE THE APPLICATION – what does it ask me? For a password? Nope. As you can see from the screenshot below it only asks you to “Confirm” that you want to buy.

I’m using Tap Tap Revenge as an example here because I want to stay away from FarmVille on my phone. The purchase flow works the same way though. (What? Lady GaGa? It’s for my kids, really, not me).

So what happened here is that by installing a free application on my phone for my kid to play with I opened up a world in which he can spend as much money as he desires without ever knowing a password, a credit card number or the fact that his father will now have to build and publicize a website simply to get his money back.

In case you’re wondering here is the cartoon friendly screen you need to access to ruin your parent’s credit score. Now click that “Buy” button three times fast will ya?

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iTunes receipts

Suffice it to say that received more than one of these – total spent $140.00. Is that it? I call the credit card company to make sure where we are.

Discover: We blocked the credit card after three transactions in one minute. The attempted charges were more than $500 dollars.
Me: What can I do about this?
Discover: You’ll have to contact the seller and try to get them refunded

So, the seller is Farmville – obviously not iTunes. I click that “Report A Problem” link in the email and land on an iTunes Store page that features a “Done” button . . . and nothing else. Did I report the problem? Who knows, but one line stands out that’s not in the email.

In App Purchase

Hmm, this “In App Purchase” will be the crux of the issue. Earlier this year Apple introduced a new feature in the iTunes store that allowed developers to “sell” products/services from inside the applications themselves. Neat eh? Now you can buy things without having to go back to the iTunes store. Isn’t that convenient? Yes it is. Is it dangerous? Yes it is.

More on the way . . .

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This isn’t working anymore

Crisis averted I go back to finishing my very important computer tasks and then start the preparation of the days breakfast and lunch for the camp going kids.

About 45 minutes later(?), and with the rest of the family arriving downstairs for breakfast, my son hands my iPhone to me and says “Papa, it isn’t working”. I take a quick glance at the screen and see the ominous text “Credit Card Declined” on a black background. “Great” I say thinking what? In the busy milieu of the morning routine I suppose I was thinking “he tried to spend some money but couldn’t” and I simply took the phone and stopped thinking about it.

Minutes later – this email comes in:

Now, somewhere in the back of my mind I know that this is related to the phone issue but I assume – thank you Discover – my kid was trying to spend money and . . . and. I don’t know – he didn’t get the password correct? Once again, it’s a busy loud kid filled morning so I don’t deal with it right away.

And then, the emails from the iTunes store start arriving . . .

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