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1 in 10 young people accidentally spent money on in-app purchases, PPP survey claims

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Results from a survey of over a thousand 11-18 year olds launched today by UK charity Childnet reveals that 12% of respondents have accidentally spent money on an in-app purchase.

The report reveals that downloading apps is a common experience among 11-18 year old respondents, with 95% saying they had downloaded an app. However, it emerged that spending money on apps is less common, but nonetheless, over half of 11-18 year old respondents (59%) said they had paid for an app and over a third (37%) said they had spent money on an in-app purchase.

A significant minority of the young people responding to the survey said they have accidentally spent money on in-app purchases. 12% said they have accidentally spent money on an in-app purchase, while 7% said they have received a big phone bill as a result of accidental in-app purchases.

Young people gave a number of reasons to explain why they were caught out, such as: not understanding that in-app purchases were ‘real money’; accidentally clicking on the purchase; and not realising the payment would go through automatically with stored passwords.

As young people explained in the survey:
• “I just wanted to get this character on a game and I didn’t realise that it cost money” (Male, 11-14 years)
• “I was about 9 or 10 and didn’t realise that the App Store took money straight out of parents’ bank account.” (Female, 11-14 years)
• “Clicked what I thought was to go to next level but it was to buy more lives.” (Female, 15-18 years)
• “I clicked on it to get one and it was taking forever so I kept clicking on it and ended up spending over £100.” (Male, 11-14 years).

The report published provides recommendations to companies who create apps and educational tips for parents and young people. This advice, along with the films created by young people as part of the Childnet Film Competition will help educate young people about the risks they can face when using apps.

Childnet teamed up with regulator PhonepayPlus to run a national competition to invite young people to create short films to educate their peers about potential app traps and avoiding unexpectedly incurring high bills.

As Evie and Amy, two of the young people involved in the competition, said: “We were excited and decided to enter, making a short film about phone bills and phone costs. We both enjoyed the editing mostly, and using green-screen to make it look more professional. During the project we learnt about how you can get hidden bills in apps and in game charges which you often don’t expect. We really enjoyed taking part and hope that we have a simple message that we put over in a style that makes a serious warning come across in a more informal and even humorous way. We are really glad we took the time to make our short film!”

Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson explains: “The internet is a tremendously powerful tool that is changing the way our children learn and stay in touch but we cannot afford to be complacent about the risks – the dangers of the virtual world are no less pressing than those in the real world.”

Timpson continues: “But it isn’t just a problem for parents, schools have a role to play too which is why we have put online safety at the heart of the curriculum to ensure children are given the information and tools they need to protect themselves online.”

Industry trade association AIME, which represents the majority of companies that provide digital content and services to consumers, says it supports any initiative that improves consumer awareness while performing financial transactions either online or inside apps, particularly with young people, but stresses that many safe guards are already in place.

“Companies that develop Apps need to fund their development resource and will provide apps either free with advertising or with chargeable elements, sometimes both,” says Rory Maguire, MD of AIME. “AIME members commit to codes of conduct to ensure that consumers are aware of the pricing and all other relevant information before they make their decision to purchase and special additional protections are built in for Apps and services that are particularly attractive to children.”

However, Maguire warns, a majority of games apps are enjoyed by a broad age range and adults do not wish to be constrained by the spending caps that already exist for children’s products. “It is very important therefore that young people who download and play on generic apps are aware that a charge will mean real money and that an advert they see may not be appropriate for their age. PhonepayPlus, which is funded by the premium rate industry has an objective to improve young people’s knowledge of financial transactions through school programmes such as Phonebrain and to develop relationships with consumer bodies such Childnet to spread awareness.”

Jo Prowse, Acting Chief Executive from PhonepayPlus adds: “PhoneBrain educates young people about premium rate services including the costs involved and how to make use of them without getting charged more than expected. This year by working with Childnet we have been able to engage with even more young people on how they can use their smartphones safely and confidently without unexpectedly incurring high bills.”

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