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British boy’s $2,500 iPad app spending spree easily avoidable

Photos of elementary students using iPads at school to do amazing projects. (http://www.schooltechnology.org)

Brad Flickinger/Flickr Creative Commons

The hoary issue of in-app purchases has reared its head again following a Telegraph story of a school-boy gone wild.

The headline is an ominous warning: " Five-year-old runs up £1,700 iPad bill in ten minutes." The not-so-subtle suggestion is this technology is like giving kids your credit card in a candy store.

I just have to say the word "Smurfberries" and you'll probably remember a similar apocryphal stories of in-app purchases gone totally out of control.

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These stories pop up all the time, "OMG thousands of dollars of in-app purchases were made, what to do, DOOM!"

As usual, once the story goes viral we focus on the bill and the obvious easy fix is mentioned nowhere.

Never mind that in this case the parents handed over the password to their kid, who subsequently went crazy.

Sharon Kitchen, 44, told the Telegraph "Danny was pestering us to let him have a go on the iPad. He kept saying it was a free game so my husband put in the passcode and handed it to him."

The tyke was left to his own devices, and whammo: "Danny had bought dozens of in-game weapons and keys on the iPad 3 including 12 purchases of '333 keys' at £69.99 a time and seven '333 ecstasy bombs' at £69.99. He also bought five lots of "9000 darts" each costing £69.99, five lots of '4200 darts' at £5.49 each and additional ecstasy bombs totalling £3.22."

He's five years old, of course he just popped buttons like he was working a Skinner box.

But as anyone who hands over an iPad, iPhone or iPod to children should know, in a few short steps you can create an additional layer of protections for your pocketbook and your child.

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In the latest versions of the iOS operating system under Settings > General > Restrictions, a huge menu of options appears. A big button marked "In-App purchases" is defaulted to "on" but can be toggled off if you enable Restrictions.

While you are there, maybe turn off "Danny's" ability to delete or install new apps, and select the type of content he's allowed to access in the iTunes store (the default for music is "explicit.") Read Apple's Restrictions Q&A for much more detail.

Look, if the adults are unwilling or unable to set parental controls, at a certain point aren't they responsible for what happens next? We don't typically freak out online over stories of people leaving $2,500 in cash unattended in a public place, because A) most folks aren't foolish enough to do so, and B) only certain types of foolishness are worthy of news coverage. I submit to you in-app purchases are squarely in the latter category.

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About the Author
Technology reporter

Shane Dingman is The Globe and Mail's technology reporter. He covers BlackBerry, Shopify and rising Canadian tech companies in Waterloo, Ont., Toronto and beyond. More

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