Case Studies on Dollars and Sense

Case Study

In-App Purchases Cost “Real” Money

The Situation

Randy was thrilled when his parents finally gave him a smartphone for his thirteenth birthday. All of his middle school friends had one (or so it seemed), and he felt left out of the fun of with the apps, taking and sending photos and videos and “surfing” the web before and after school.

Before Randy used the device, his parents showed him its features, and outlined how many minutes of voice, text and data (Internet) were available each month. They also showed Randy how to check his monthly usage – at anytime and for free – using his device. With his parents’ permission, he purchased a couple of game apps.

Within a few months, Randy’s parents noticed unexplained charges appearing on the family’s wireless phone bill. The charges had started small — less than a couple dollars the first month, but had soared to more than $75 before they realized there was a problem.

What Worked

Randy’s parents told him how many voice, text and data time he had and how to keep track of his usage using his mobile device. Before he downloaded the two game apps, Randy had asked his parents for permission.

What Didn’t Work

His parents didn’t realize that the two apps he downloaded also offered in-app purchases throughout the game. While he was playing the game, the app asked if he wanted to buy various items. Randy kept saying “yes” because he thought it was “play” money, not real money.

There were no more ground rules to guide the 13-year-old’s use of the device. His parents hadn’t checked out its other features, or checked to see if there were extra security and parental controls to activate that would restrict in-app purchases.

Lessons

Case Study

Texting4EVR

The Situation

Joan was starting middle school, and in her family, that meant she was now “old enough” for a smartphone. Her parents let her pick out her new device and put her on the family plan. They told her about the dangers of sexting and cyberbullying since the local news said it was the “new” thing that kids were doing. Joan had always shown good judgment, but her parents were concerned about everyone else.

Even though Joan’s grades never suffered, her parents noticed she was constantly “talking” (which meant texting) her friends. Wherever Joan went, the device went too. When they asked her what she was doing, she said she was talking to her friends about their homework. Occasionally, they’d ask to see her device, and sure enough, the conversations were usually about homework. It was clear Joan was helping her friends out.

When her parents received the monthly wireless bill, they noticed Joan’s texting significantly exceeded the family plan. There was no doubt that Joan was the “culprit.”

What Worked 

Joan’s parents spoke to her about sexting and cyberbullying, and having this kind of dialogue is very important. It’s notable that Joan and her parents had an understanding that at anytime, her parents could ask to see the device.

What Didn’t Work

While they noticed she was texting and saw that it was sometimes to help friends with homework, they didn’t realize the volume of messages she was sending and receiving.

Lessons

  • Create family rules, including an understanding about the number of texts that may be sent/received. This applies to voice and data usage too.
  • At anytime, you and/or your child may check on your usage for free using your mobile device or contacting your wireless provider.
  • Place limits on your child’s usage by using parental control tools and features. This may include days of the week, periods of time for it to be used and the number of texts (as well as voice and/or data) used.

Additional Resources

  • Common Sense Media is a non-profit organization which rates and reviews movies, TV shows, songs, books, video games, wireless applications and websites according to developmental criteria recommendations from some of the nation's leading authorities.
  • CTIA Initiatives to help parents manage the way kids use wireless devices and services, including CTIA’s Guidelines for Content Classification and Internet Access, CTIA Mobile Application Rating System with ESRB and Location Based Services (LBS) Best Practices and Guidelines.
  • CTIA S-A-F-E-T-Y Tips to help parents and kids set expectations about wireless use.
  • Connect Safely provides information on how to use the web and social network spaces safely.
  • FCC Parent’s Place provides information about how to improve your children's safety in today's complex media landscape, and what the FCC is doing to help.
  • iKeepSafe is a 501(c)3 nonprofit international alliance of more than 100 policy leaders, educators, law enforcement members, technology experts, public health experts and advocates. iKeepSafe offers information on how to educate your children in using their cell phones smart and safely through programs such as Cell Phone Smart.
  • OnGuardOnline: Your Safety Net Net Cetera is a coalition of federal government agencies and the tech industry that created Net Cetera, an online safety guidebook for parents to help communicate with their children about using their mobile phones safely and responsibly.
  • The Wireless Foundation offers an innovative game app called “BeSeen” to raise cyber awareness and digital literacy in kids before they face the risks of cyberbullying, identity theft and privacy invasion and to guide them towards being responsible online citizens. “BeSeen” is available for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.