So it seems that smurfberries are stirring up a bit of trouble. For those who are not informed of the issue, in the iPhone app “The Smurf’s Village”, the player uses smurfberries to trade for houses and other things. The game itself is free, but smurfberries can be purchased for real money as well. Normally you have to enter a password to make a purchase. However, there’s a loophole which allows players to make a purchase if somebody has entered the password on that iPhone within the last fifteen minutes. So some parents let their kids play the game on their iPhone without being aware that money might change hands, and then are surprised when a $60 charge for a smurfberry wheelbarrow shows up on their bill.
Personally I’m of two minds about this. I’ve always strongly believed that it’s the responsibility of parents to police what their children are doing, and that attempts to have society or government substitute for parental supervision are almost guaranteed failures. However, the particular details of this case are somewhat different from demanding that television be censored to protect children from certain content. Basically speaking, a parents who hands their iPhone to a kid could lose money without knowing that it’s happening. The only way to be aware of the possibility would be to be aware of every single app, which is obviously not possible. What say you?
I don’t have an iPhone so I don’t have any experience with Apple’s implementation, but it sounds like they implemented the password system in an unintuitive manner, in which case all blame rests with Apple for failing to treat people’s credit card details with the expected level of care.
I think the blame lies in equal portions with the people who made the app to do something so stupidly insecure and the parent who hands a $200 phone to their 4 year old to play with unsupervised. Seriously? You couldn’t drop the $10 to get your kid a play phone of his very own?
Yeah, I’m one of those grumpy parents who doesn’t let my kid play with my cell phone. Ever. And it’s only a $69 T-Mobile piece of crap. But it’s MY piece of crap!
I remember hearing a while back (on The Talk Show podcast, I think) that while multiple users may be out of the picture, it would be wonderful for parents to have a way to instantly “forget the password”. So this isn’t exactly a new thing, although the Smurfberry part may be new. In their case, the problem they had was that the child would simply end up experimenting with the phone and getting into the store, or an app with purchases in it.
I’m sort of surprised there hasn’t been any solution along those lines. My hunch is that this isn’t allowed for a third-party app, so it falls on Apple to do something about it, and it’s not big on their list.
It’s entirely possible to be aware of every single app - which you download to your own phone. The phones don’t come pre-loaded with Smurf Village. The woman in the article downloaded it deliberately. If she didn’t know what it does, well that’s on her.
iPhones are not childrens’ toys, even if they have childrens’ games on them. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple introduced parent controls to limit purchases in games. Still wouldn’t have helped this woman, since she didn’t know what sort of game it was.
If she really wants her four year old to have a game system, she should buy a DS (although I think four is too young to stare at a screen for any length of time - but that’s a different rant.)
The vulnerability only exists because of Apple’s failure to follow the expected procedure. It’s like those new debit cards that let you make purchases without entering your PIN: if the company did not adequately disclose this information, it is entirely their fault if their lax security causes you financial harm.
Smurf Village isn’t the problem, Apple’s implementation of the password system is. If it wasn’t Smurf Village, it would be the iTunes store.
My comment was aimed at ITR’s claim that it was impossible to know what every app does. My point was that you don’t need to know what every app does, just the apps you voluntarily put on your phone.
The article ITR refers to claims that the women in question didn’t know that it was possible to buy things in the game. The only reason that game exists at all is to be a gateway for people to buy things in it. It’s not a game at all, really, it’s a moneysink.
If she didn’t know what Smurf Village is, she’s an idiot to put it on her phone and hand it to her 4 year old - regardless of Apple’s password system.
Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple revisits their password time-out policy for in-game purchases. You’re right - there should be no 15-minute grace period. But the real problem here is people not knowing what an app does before they give it to their child.
There is, in fact, a Parental Controls setting on the iPhone to prevent any in-app purchases. Turning this on would prevent a child (or anyone else without the Parental Control password) from buying any Smurfberries.
I also recall a similar story going around before this one, something about one of the Farmville company’s apps (I want to say it was a virtual fishbowl app).
That said, I am agreed that there should be a method to “forget that I just entered my password” or better yet, eliminate that grace period all together. I don’t know that it’s such an important use case that people be able to install multiple new apps within 15 minutes to the extent that they will be annoyed by the password screen.
Also, it should be noted that iPhone apps run also on the iPod Touch. Which is, if not a child’s toy, probably a suitable toy for an older child/teen. So there are still issues if it is connected to a parent’s account. But as I said, there is a solution for that, in that the “buy shit inside an application” feature can be turned off.
Iphone should require the entry of a password any time money is about to be spent.
I once bought a my pretty pony game without knowing it because my 7 year old neice picked up my phone and downloaded a free version of the game and then the game asked if she wanted to upgrade the game, she clicked yes and it charged me $6 for an expanded version of this game that lets you dress up ponies (but now I have access to a larger variety of horse tail ribbons). Its not a big deal but my neice realized what happened and almost cried because she “stole” from me, her mother scolded her and all because iphone makes it easy to accidentally buy stuff.
See kids, now this is how you grow your Smurf Village:
Jenova Chen, who designed fl0w, Cloud & Flower, realized that he harvest his crops faster simply by setting the time on his iPhone forward 18 hours. He maxxed out his Village in a couple of hours and didn’t spend a dime.
I can’t believe the Smurf Designers didn’t account for that trick or that no one else seems to have thought of it sooner. Plenty of dumb to go around in this story.
First, you tell them not to buy smurfberries on your phone.
Then, when they inevitably do this, you realize the whole Smurf Village idea was bad and tell them they don´t get to play Smurf Village anymore until they learn the concept of personal property rights.