Here’s a warning for every parent: ignore it at your peril.
I’ve been ignoring messages like this for years. Jo and I think we’re reasonably responsible parents: we don’t allow Izzy out of our sight on walks; she wears wellies in muddy puddles, eats lettuce and broccoli, says please and thank you, is sorry when she breaks things, and never watches television after 9pm.
So when we see a warning ‘for every parent’, we assume it means every other parent. Wrong.
This is a warning for people who ignore warnings. Beware of your apps.
I have 106 of them on my iPhone. They make me social, find me restaurants, play music, and tell me the weather.
My current favourite is Tube Exits, which enables me to cross London in the fastest time possible, by telling me which carriage can save me time walking down the platform at the other end. I know this may not be particularly helpful to people living in Kirkwhelpington, but in London it can save an awful lot of walking.
Another, called Flightradar, lets me identify all the planes flying over my house into Heathrow – how nerdy is that?
And my mornings wouldn’t be the same without The Journal app. It’s a great way to read and store this newspaper.
I love my apps. More than half belong to Izzy – you can easily spot them: Cinderella Fairy Tale Dressup, Minion Rush, Pet Beauty Salon, and so on. She has her own iPad folder, into which she surreptitiously moves some of my apps, just because she finds it funny when I can’t find them.
Our iPhones and iPads are all linked together, which means it’s slightly embarrassing in the middle of business meetings when a loud whoosh on your phone announces that: “Your Minions miss you – come back and play with us.” It’s part of having a five-year-old. And invaluable for long car journeys.
I know she can’t download her own apps because I use a password so complicated even I have to look it up. But yesterday morning I heard my wife utter a loud shriek of parental pain. I dashed downstairs to find Jo staring at her iPad, and Izzy looking sheepish.
“Tell him, Izzy,” Jo commanded. “Tell Daddy what you’ve done.”
The sheepishness turned to fear. “No, Mummy, you tell him. I said sorry.” Jo pointed at an email from the Apple Store. It was a receipt for an “in-app purchase” for 90 jewels.
“Ah, sweet,” I began to say, but then I saw the price: £32.99.
You could have heard the “Whaaaaat!” in Kirkwhelpington.
“Wait,” said Jo. “There’s more…”
I looked at the inbox. It went on forever. Our “in-app” purchases cost £820 in less than one week.
Now I knew why Izzy had been boasting, “I’ve reached the next level, Daddy,” while I’d marvelled at her dexterity.
A lot of apps are ostensibly free, but rely on “in app purchases” to make the games remotely fun. Unlike downloads, they don’t need you to add a password every time. As we just found out.
I immediately rang the Apple Store and spoke to someone called Jeff in the Philippines. He was terribly nice about it and refunded all our money without question.
I’m not surprised. Recently, Apple had to shell out £20m in refunds to American parents whose kids had inadvertently behaved like Izzy, and pressed some “Buy” button to purchase jewels or coins on their games.
Jeff told me how to reset our devices, so it can never happen again. You click on Settings, then General, then Restrictions, which you set to ON, set a special passcode, and then you can switch ON the restrictions for your In-App purchases.
Do it now. And also set the age restriction on your apps. But beware: I put a 4+ restriction on all of ours.
As a result, this morning I couldn’t download The Journal. For some inexplicable reason it has a 12+ rating. So don’t leave your copy of the paper lying around, in case your five-year-old sees it. You have been warned.