Monday, January 20th, 2014
Kids who purchased apps for their iPhones, iPods, or iPads without their parents’ permission have provoked the ire of not only their parents, but also the Federal Trade Commission, which has ordered Apple to refund at least $32.5 million to families. More from The Washington Post:
The Federal Trade Commission’s settlement with Apple is the first punishment handed to a major tech company over the handling of children’s apps. It comes amid growing concern that as children clamor to use mobile devices, companies are doing little to protect their privacy or provide parents with the tools to supervise online behavior.
Apple drew the attention of FTC investigators nearly three years ago after a storm of consumer complaints from parents who were surprised by charges on their credit cards when their children used games such as Tap Pet Hotel and Smurf’s Village. These parents complained to regulators and joined a separate class-action lawsuit against Apple that claimed the company had approved games in its iTunes store that enticed children to buy virtual coins or “smurfberries” for real money — as much as $500 per item — without making sure the games had safeguards.
The FTC said Apple unfairly deceived consumers by allowing unlimited in-app purchases for a 15-minute period without telling users of the policy. Normally, any charges on Apple’s iOS operating system require users to enter a password to prevent accidental or unauthorized purchases.
Some parents reported that their young children had racked up thousands of dollars in charges.
“This settlement is a victory for consumers harmed by Apple’s unfair billing and a signal to the business community,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “You cannot charge consumers for charges they did not authorize.”
Image: Kid on tablet device, via Shutterstock
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Friday, August 9th, 2013
A children’s advocacy group called the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that companies that produce videos and mobile apps aimed at babies and toddlers are fraudulently promoting the products as “educational.” More from The New York Times:
As mobile devices supplant television as entertainment vehicles for younger children, media and software companies increasingly see opportunities in the baby learning app market. But the complaint to the F.T.C. by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the same nonprofit group that helped prompt “Baby Einstein” to backtrack from its educational claims, challenges the idea that such apps provide more than simple entertainment value.
In addition to the complaint against Fisher-Price “Laugh & Learn” apps, which have been downloaded more than 2.8 million times, the advocacy group filed a similar complaint on Wednesday against apps for babies marketed by Open Solutions, a software developer.
According to the complaints, the companies say in marketing material that their apps teach infants spatial skills, numbers, language or motor skills. But, the complaints claim, there is no rigorous scientific evidence to prove that these kinds of products provide those benefits.
“The baby genius industry is notorious for marketing products as educational, when in fact there is no evidence that they are,” said Susan Linn, the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which is based in Boston. “Parents deserve honest information about the educational value of the activities they choose for their children and they are not getting it from these companies.”
The group’s complaints also contend that using such apps “may be detrimental to very young children.” Ms. Linn said the programs could take time away from activities, like hands-on creative play or face-time with caring adults, that have proved beneficial for infant learning. She noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents avoid screen media for children under 2.
Image: Toddler using mobile device, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, July 11th, 2013
Diapers embedded with a medical analysis device that syncs with a smartphone app promise to give parents more information than ever about their babies’ health–based on the contents of their diapers. More on the in-development, and sure to be controversial, “Smart Diapers” from ABC News:
About a year and a half ago Jennie Rubinshteyn and Yaroslav Faybishenko’s 1-year-old daughter was crying in the back seat of their car.
“I was being paranoid. I couldn’t stop asking myself and my husband, ‘What is in her diaper? What’s in her diaper?” Rubinshteyn, 35, told ABC News. Faybishenko responded, “Data is her diaper. Urine is full of so much health information.”
And that, the couple says, was the start of a new family business in making what they call “Smart Diapers.” No, the diapers don’t send tweets or alerts about when there’s pee or poop inside — that’s still a job for Huggies’ TweetPee app. Instead, the husband-wife team have invented a regular disposable diaper with a medical trick — it collects information about a child’s urine.
A dry-reagent panel, just like those colorful sticks you pee on at the doctor, sits on the front of the diaper. It works a lot like a QR code. Using the Smart Diapers iOS and Android app, a parent can scan the panel and see information about the urine.
Rubinshteyn and Faybishenko explain that parents would do this once a day, and the information about their child’s urine would be stored in the app. The goal is to accumulate data about urination patterns and then use that data to spot urinary tract infections, dehydration or developing kidney problems. The app will fire off an alert if something peculiar is found.
“This is about health monitoring, not understanding whether the diaper is wet,” Rubinshteyn, who has an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania and experience working in finance, said. Her husband brings the computer science and health technology experience to the table. In addition, they have two biomedical engineers on staff at their company, called Pixie Scientific.
The Smart Diapers are still in testing, though. The couple is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on approval and testing them at pediatric hospitals. The goal is to bring them to hospitals and then to the broader market. The pricing isn’t set yet, but according to Faybishenko, the diapers will be 30 to 40 percent more expensive than regular diapers. They plan to sell the Smart Diapers in a package with regular diapers, since they only need to be worn once a day.
Image: Mom changing diaper, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013
Apple is responsible for paying $100 million to parents whose children made unauthorized purchases in game apps, under the terms of a class-action settlement that was originally filed in 2011, according to ABC News.
There have since been multiple stories of children going on buying sprees on their parents’ iPhone and iPad applications where they are purchasing imaginary goods and services offered by some game apps. In one instance, an 8-year-old girl bought $1,400 worth of “Smurfberries” in the Smurf Village game app.
This issue was brought to the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. Parents protested that the children playing these games may not be aware that the virtual coins or tokens used to buy imaginary goods through apps must be paid for by their parents with real money. Apple has since made changes to it’s policy that makes it more difficult for kids to charge their parents’ iTunes accounts without parental consent.
As a result of the settlement, parents may submit a claim through a special “Apple In-App Purchase Litigation” website prior to August 30, 2013. Claims from parents whose children accrued unauthorized charges of $30 or less will result in compensation for the parent in the form of $5 in iTunes Store credit or $5 cash if they no longer have an account. For claims exceeding $30, parents must also submit the date and amount of each purchase. Any U.S. citizen is eligible for compensation if the charge was accrued by a minor acting without the parent’s consent through a qualified app prior to May 2, 2013.
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Monday, April 15th, 2013
A new smartphone app that could help doctors diagnose autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by uploading videos of children’s behaviors to a website is in development. The app is intended to help streamline the diagnostic process, in line with research that shows that earlier diagnosis–and intervention–leads to more successful outcomes in autistic kids. A shortage of specialists can delay proper diagnosis by as long as six months, the app’s developers say. More from USA Today:
To help with the problem, the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, a Phoenix-based autism research nonprofit, is developing a smartphone application that specialists would use to diagnose autism based on videos of children’s behavior uploaded onto a website.
The app, the Naturalistic Observation Diagnostic Assessment, could shorten the diagnostic process so children can get treatment earlier, especially in rural communities where skilled specialists are difficult to find….
Parents still would have to arrange follow-up treatment and care with specialists, and there would be an unknown cost for the app-based diagnosis.
The autism center, which is funding the app development with a $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, is collaborating with Behavior Imaging Solutions, a Boise, Idaho, medical-technology company, and the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
Christopher Smith, the autism center’s vice president and director of research, said that testing will begin this summer with a few families and that the app will potentially be available as early as 2014.
“This is an exciting opportunity for the community to find new ways to at least help lower and help reduce the disparity of health care in this country,” said Andy Shih, senior vice president of scientific affairs at Autism Speaks, one of the world’s largest autism-advocacy organizations.
Image: Doctor using smartphone, via Shutterstock
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