Are Your Children Racking Up Charges From Mobile Games? Here’s How to Fight Back

Are Your Children Racking Up Charges From Mobile Games? Here’s How to Fight Back

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One is Ask to Buy, a set of controls that requires a parent to approve each app purchase on a child’s device. It can be set up with the following steps:

  • A parent first sets up a family sharing account, by going into the settings app, selecting “set up family sharing” and following the instructions.

  • The parent then sends an invitation to the child’s Apple device to join the family account. (If the child doesn’t have an Apple ID, the parent can create one and add it to the family group.)

  • Then, the parent goes into the family sharing settings, selects the child’s account and turns on Ask to Buy. It notifies the parent’s device whenever the child tries to buy an app or something inside an app. The parent can approve or reject the purchases.

You can also disable in-app payments on Apple devices altogether. Here’s how:

  • On the child’s device settings, choose “screen time” and select “this is my child’s iPhone.”

  • Set a secret passcode and then tap “content & privacy restrictions.” From here, tap “iTunes & App Store purchases.”

  • Then choose “in-app purchases” and select “don’t allow.”

An Apple spokeswoman said the company designed the controls to “provide families easy ways to stay informed about kids’ screen time, set appropriate limits and approve their downloads and purchases.”

Google’s tool for managing a child’s app purchases on Android devices is incomplete compared with Apple’s. Google offers a parental control tool called Family Link, which includes a setting for requiring parental approval for app purchases. But children can choose to leave Family Link once they turn 13 and remove the restrictions — a limitation I have criticized in the past.

While I do not recommend Family Link for managing a child’s app purchases, here’s an alternative method that is more reliable for regulating in-app payments on Android devices:

  • On your child’s Android device, set a password for the Google account that is used for making purchases from Google Play, which is the Android app store.

  • Open the Google Play Store app on the child’s device. Tap the hamburger menu (an icon with three lines) and scroll down to settings.

  • Tap on the “require authentication for purchases” option. Then select “all purchases.”

With this setting turned on, you will have to enter your password whenever the child tries to buy an app or goods inside an app. As long as you set a strong password and keep it secret, the child should not be able to make purchases.

This solution is imperfect because the child will need to use a separate Google account and password for unrelated tasks, like email, but it is more reliable than Family Link because the restriction won’t expire when the child turns 13. Google declined to comment.

The process for blocking in-app payments on Facebook is the most lacking and the most confusing, I found.

That’s because people can make purchases in games on the social network and on its family of apps — which include Facebook Messenger — in a dizzying variety of ways. Children can spend in games loaded inside Facebook’s mobile apps, which include Facebook and Facebook Messenger, or on a computer using Facebook.com.

That means if your children are racking up charges inside Facebook’s iPhone apps, the aforementioned Apple tools will help. If they are spending inside Facebook’s Android apps, the Google solution above might stop them. But if they are buying things inside games on the Facebook website on a computer, there is no direct tool to prevent payments. The best you can do is to go into your child’s Facebook account and remove your payment method from it.



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