A report that was published two years ago indicated that Kenyan youths were spending a minimum of $2.5 billion per annum more than ten per cent of he country’s annual budget on gadgets and other valuables. For many Kenyan parents who caved into the pressure and splashed out on a new tablet computer for their children, the not inconsiderable initial purchase bill may almost be a distant memory.Yet the increasingly dollar driven nature of the app marketplace will ensure the pain continues to be applied squarely to the hip pocket. In South Africa, deliberate marketing to young children means that parents will doubtless face surprise bills for in-app purchases their children have unknowingly bought online. A survey in 2015 shows overwhelmingly that African children’s favourite pastime on their device is using apps. While many apps for children are free to install, app developers are using clever tactics to get African parents money in other ways.Most commonly, free apps are finished very quickly, meaning children will want the sequel, which just happens to cost money. Other are dotted with advertising. Of more concern is that many new apps are now rife with in-app purchases to help their developers turn a profit.Most of these purchases are add-ons you can buy within the app.These in-app purchases are a clear revenue stream for app developers looking to cash in on their free games, as children can spend a small fortune on purchases without their parents’ knowledge, oblivious to the small fortune being drained out of their credit cards.Parents have shared their extraordinary tales of their children’s accidental and expensive online spending on social media and blogging sites across Africa.In one case that am familiar with, one parent divulged that his five year-old had spent $600 in 40 minutes upgrading to new levels using in-app purchases.There have recently been a number of high profile media stories regarding young children’s online over-spending.
A survey of South Africa parents on their children’s in-app purchases on smartphones and tablets where 2,000 adults were surveyed, 34% said that their little ones had made in-app purchases without their knowledge.Nine-year-olds caused the most financial damage, spending an average of $30 without permission. Much younger children are not left out of this equation, with 42% of parents admitting to paying for content bought accidentally by children aged three and under.While in app purchases are not inherently wrong, the problem is that some apps give clear warnings that you’re about to spend money, while others do not. Some developers even claim their games are completely free, despite later asking players to stump up for power ups or tokens price.While a lot of app stores require a password and give a warning before an app or in-app content is purchased, there is a loophole period of 20 minutes when additional purchases can sometimes be without having to enter the password again.So parents are now stuck in the invidious position of wanting to give their children the opportunity to play these devices, while at the same time preserving the family’s finances.Children are prolific users of technology and these devices are fantastic for children’s learning and entertainment. But the current marketing environment is clearly exploiting children’s inexperience and trust.A key to addressing this situation is the need for parents to monitor their childrens’ use of their tablet devices. Restricting in-app purchases with a password or pin, protecting your passwords, using parental controls, and unlinking bank card from app account are all useful preventative measures.Equally important is explaining to children the pros and cons of in-app purchases. There is need for authorities to identify apps that may mislead young children into making unauthorised in-app purchases. Also rules are needed that stop bait pricing on children’s games in the first place. Money warnings could be provided at the start of games and to indicate it is an in-app purchase game, and caps should be installed on how much can be spent on such purchases within an hour or within the game, which can only be removed by the cardholder.Parents also need to be notified of any time loophole that does require a password upon each use of their account and the option to turn that loophole period off.Until the regulations governing apps and their purchase systems are strengthened, the number of parents who receive a rude shock when they see their latest banks statement will only continue to grow.