App Complaints from Parents up 300%

16 January 2013

It has been reported that Phonepayplus, the organisation that regulated phone-paid services in the UK, has seen a 300% increase in complaints relating to children and app usage, highlighting the dangers of unauthorised versions of some of the most popular game apps.

In the report, it came to light that children were downloading rogue versions of high profile games, such as Angry Birds, Assassins Creed and Cut the Rope, which led to charges of £15 every time the app was opened. Many parents’ credit cards or mobile phone bills were hit by charges of more than £500. In other instances, free apps are being downloaded by youngsters, but they are then encouraged to buy extra items. Some free apps also contained malware that leaves users paying sky-high telephone bills.

And it seems that Apple were aware of potential dangers with apps from the start, having implemented a rigorous process for developers when releasing apps to their online store. This review process had been put into place for the purpose of restricting apps with offensive material, and ensuring they perform as advertised in order to protect the end user. However, it’s clear from today’s news that these processes created by both Apple, and also its rival Google, are not strong enough – with these fake apps appearing, easily accessible to anyone browsing their app store.

Such dangers aren’t limited to mobile apps. These companies are now using social networks accessed via Smartphones and tablets, to con users out of money. In a similar case, teenagers were tricked into sharing supermarket vouchers on Facebook – a promotion which spread to thousands of youngsters, and misled them into taking part in a premium rate competition.

In a recent report, Ofcom released statistics that show Smartphone ownership is increasing amongst all children. In 2012, 28% of 5-15 year olds had their own Smartphone, up from 20% the previous year. A 21 percentage point increase was seen amongst children aged 12-15, with 62% owning a Smartphone.

Whilst regulators work to crack down on these rogue apps, what can we do to keep our children safe when using Smartphones?

  • All major Smartphone suppliers have built-in parental controls. Windows have a ‘Kids Corner’ separately within your phone, to control what apps your children are using. Apple also have restrictions as to which Apps are available when your children are accessing you Smartphone or tablet.
  • If the Smartphone belongs to your child, you can consider contacting the mobile network operator to inform them that this number belongs to a child, to see if there are any additional precautions that could be taken.
  • It’s important not to share your password with your children, as they can then not only download free apps, that as we see here could potentially contain malware, but they can also download paid apps too. It’s a good idea to create a password that your children will not guess.
  • Supervising your children whilst they use a Smartphone or tablet is a good idea; however it’s not always possible to do so – especially with older children. Regular monitoring of their Smartphone usage will help you to spot any suspicious apps that may have been downloaded without your knowledge.

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