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Apple sends email offering refund for app purchases without parental consent

Friday - 3/28/2014, 4:21am  ET

in-app popup (screenshot)
iPhone users now get a warning message about a 15-minute in-app purchase window. (Apple)

WASHINGTON -- iTunes users have started receiving emails from Apple offering the chance to get a refund for recent App Store purchases made by children without the permission of a parent.

Users who believe they are due a refund have until April 15 to submit a refund request.

The email is the latest in Apple's attempts to satisfy its agreement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to ensure that children aren't able to make unauthorized app purchases.

In January, Apple signed an agreement with the FTC to provide full refunds -- totaling $32 million -- to parents whose children made in-app purchases without parental permission.

An in-app purchase occurs when a user downloads an app -- often free -- and then is offered the opportunity to pay additional charges for additional features.

In the past, there was a 15-minute window after a user downloaded any app in which he or she could make in-app purchases without re-entering a password.

That left open the opportunity for a child to make 15 minutes of unauthorized purchases after a parent downloaded an application. Apple removed that option in 2011.

Since then, and until today, after an initial in-app purchase, additional charges can be incurred without re-entering a password for a 15-minute period.

Apple issues heads up to parents

In Apple's most recent iOS update -- 7.1 -- users are being notified of the 15- minute window each time they make an in-app purchase.

"Apple's added a pop-up dialog that warns parents," says computer consultant Jeff Lauterette, of Springfield, Va.-based Mid Atlantic Consulting.

Under its consent decree with the FTC, Apple had until March 31 to notify consumers of the refund policy and make other changes to ensure that children don't make purchases without a parent's knowledge.

"The pop-up is kind of a compromise, because people don't want to enter their password every two seconds they make a little purchase," says Lauterette, but "Apple's trying to make sure parents know that when they enter that password, for 15 minutes their child could make purchases."

Once receiving the dialog, users can change settings to require that a password be entered for every subsequent in-app purchase.

Did your child make unauthorized app purchases?

This is the email received by many iTunes users. In addition, those who have not received the email can review past purchases and use an enclosed link to request a refund:

Dear iTunes account owner,

Apple is committed to providing parents and kids with a great experience on the App Store. We review all app content before allowing it on our store, provide a wide range of age-appropriate content, and include parental controls in iOS to make it easy for parents to restrict or disable access to content.

We've heard from some customers that it was too easy for their kids to make in-app purchases. As a result, we've improved controls for parents so they can better manage their children's purchases, or restrict them entirely. Additionally, we are offering refunds in certain cases.

Our records show that you made some in-app purchases, and if any of these were unauthorized purchases by a minor, you might be eligible for a refund from Apple.

Please follow the steps below to submit a refund request:

Find your in-app purchase records. Check your email for iTunes receipts or use a computer to sign in to your iTunes account and view your Purchase History.

Use this link to submit your refund request to Apple.

Provide the requested information and enter "Refund for In-App Purchases made by a minor" in the Details section.

Apple will review your request and contact you via email about your refund status. All refund requests must be submitted no later than April 15, 2015.

If you have any questions or need further assistance with your refund request, please contact Apple.

To learn more about parental controls in iOS, please see this article.

Thank you.

Apple

Under the agreement, Apple is required to pay at least $32.5 million. If customers' refund requests don't equal that figure, the remainder of the money will go to the FTC.

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