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Washington AGO helps goad Smurfy solution to Smurfberry Kerfuffle

Washington AGO helps goad Smurfy solution to Smurfberry Kerfuffle

(Internet Safety, Credit and Money Matters) Permanent link

It’s been dubbed the great Smurfberry Kerfuffle of 2011 – children unwittingly ringing up charges while playing Capcom’s “freemium” game Smurfs’ Village on a parent’s  iPhone or iPad.

Although the game costs nada to download, one 8-year-old reportedly bought $1,400 in virtual smurfberries while playing. That’s because iTunes didn’t require a password to be entered more than once every 15 minutes. And those first 15 minutes provided enough time to make plenty of purchases in Smurfs’ Village, Tap Zoo, Dolphin Play and the like.

smurfsvillageNeedless to say, Smurfs weren’t the only ones blue in the face.  A Washington resident – who happens to be the author of children’s books – filed a complaint in November 2010 with the Washington Attorney General’s Office after his 5-year-old son spent $51. Apple agreed to refund him, but the man wanted to warn others.

Paula Selis, who heads up our Consumer Protection High-Tech Unit, voiced our concerns in a Dec. 22 letter to Apple.

We weren’t the only ones worried. Reports by the Associated Press and Washington Post ignited substantial controversy. The Federal Trade Commission wrote to Apple in February. Lawmakers asked for an investigation. Program developers added disclaimers on the iTunes store.

Yesterday, our office received a response from Apple starting that its updated device software – launched yesterday – includes changes to avoid these billing problems. Specifically, it includes a feature that requires a password every time a purchase is made while using an application. (The software update also includes 59 security patches for the mobile version of Safari.)

“With iOS 4.3, in addition to a password being required to purchase an app on the App Store, a reentry of your password is now required when making an in-app purchase,” Trudy Muller, a spokeswoman for Apple, told the Washington Post.

That’s Smurfy.

There’s a lesson for consumers, here, too. Freemium games – also available through Facebook – are a growing market.

“Everyone - and we mean everyone apart from maybe Crescent Moon - seems to be planning on releasing a freemium mobile game over the next couple of months,” writes “Call it the Smurfs' Village effect if you like - Capcom Mobile is rumored to be making $4 million a month from Smurfberries - the revenues that can be made via this model are so incredible, especially compared to the relative cheapness of development, it seems worth the risk.”

Apple reportedly takes a 30 percent cut of in-app sales.

And this brings me to today's Consumer Protection Week tip of the day: More than ever, game players and parents of game players need to read the fine print when buying games online. And don’t give a kid your iTunes password. If you allow your child to download stuff, PocketGamer makes a good suggestion: set up a separate iTunes account using a gift card – instead of a credit or debit card. And limit what your kids can access by using iTunes' parental controls available via the iTunes menu on a Mac and the Edit menu in Windows.

Posted by Kristin Alexander All Consuming Blog Moderator at 03/10/2011 03:34:45 PM | 

$1400 of smurfberries the makers of the game should be ashamed, as I can imagine that child did not have a clue what funds were being spent.
Posted by: Judith Moore ( Email ) at 5/25/2011 11:41 AM

two things amaze me. First, it's revolting what lengths businesses will go to to make profits. It's as though being a CEO relieves an individual of any social or moral responsibility. However, I'm sure we can find these characters at church on Sunday. That said, parents have to bear some responsibility. This is no longer an innocent world. It's up to parents to be parents. You can no longer rely on society to protect your children from exposure to the dark side.
Posted by: Mark Reimers ( Email ) at 7/27/2011 4:05 PM

My son just did the exact same thing (3 yr old) purchasing 110$ in smurfberries via the google android market place. The problem has been fixed on the apple side but is NOT yet fixed on the android side where NO password is required for purchasing smurfberries or ANY application via the android marketplace. Its easy also for your kids to grab your phone when your not looking and go playing around.
Posted by: Jonathan McAllister ( Email ) at 11/15/2011 5:18 PM

Never thought to find one as great as this. I had a lot of great thoughts in every post I've read. I would sure come back the next time to check on your new posts. I really had fun whilst reading the posts. I just love reading them..
Posted by: buy apple cell phone ( Email ) at 5/28/2013 2:33 AM

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