Kids Buy a Bunch of Pretend Platypi in Game Apps. Regulators Sue Amazon, Obviously.


tap zoo
Tap Zoo

Let's say a kid runs of some pretty hefty charges by clicking around inside a gaming app on mom's phone. What should happen next?

(a) Mom takes back the phone, gives the app a crappy rating, then deletes the game or takes advantage of settings designed to allow parents to limit in-app purchases. Docking future allowance payments is optional, depending on the kid's age and intent.


(b) A massive government bureaucracy grinds into action, demands that the third party that distributes the app require their customers to enter passwords every single time they make a purchase and then, when the company refuses, files a lawsuit alleging unfair trade practices. 

tap zoo
Tap Zoo

Of course, option (a) happens every day. But that's not good enough for the folks at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who have already successfully bullied Apple into forcing users to input their passwords at every turn (so annoying!), but have so far failed to intimidate Amazon

The FTC complaint cited "Tap Zoo" and "Ice Age Village" in which children manage a zoo or an ancient town. To do that, they can purchase digital items that often cost real money. A user put a review on in July 2013 complaining that "Tap Zoo" was a "cash trap" and said his son spent $65 on it without permission. The game currently tells parents how to disable the purchasing function.

The apps run on Amazon's Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD and devices that use Google's Android operating system.

The FTC settled a similar case with Apple Inc in January. Apple agreed to refund to customers at least $32.5 million in unauthorized charges made by children and to change its billing practices to require consent from parents for in-app spending.

Amazon says it already has an informal policy of refunding purchases made by unpoliced runaway juvenile tappers.  

And yes, I know the legitimacy of platypi is up for debate. True pedants may substitute platypodes or playtpuses if they wish.

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  1. I get that not everyone is a computer whiz, but giving kids your password and/or an unlocked spending account is a bad idea if you don’t want surprise bills. Instead, they should have their own accounts with a limited (or zero) account.

    1. Agreed- though that is not easy to do on mobile devices. For example, iphones are paired with one account. Changing it requires diving into the settings of the phone. This is painful if you are just giving your kid a phone to play with while waiting for a doctor.

      But then, the answer is not to install such apps or don’t give the phone to the kid.

    2. I get that not everyone is a computer whiz

      I’m becoming less tolerant of this excuse every day. Every technology since kids were invented has required some level of adult supervision.

      PPV and telemarketing have been around for going on half a century if you haven’t gotten used to your telephone serving as a payment vector, you need to have your telephone privileges revoked.

      1. I agree, but this is a “don’t walk around the slums alone at 3am” type situation. It’s prudent not to do it for your own safety, but if you choose to ignore it, that doesn’t make it legal to mug you. Likewise while a parent would be wise to keep close tabs on their kids, but the failure to do so doesn’t not absolve the company.

        It’s their duty to make sure they have permission to take my money before they try to do so; it’s not my duty to actively prevent them from taking it without my permission.

  2. And yes, I know the legitimacy of platypi is up for debate. True pedants may substitute platypodes or playtpuses if they wish.


    1. Platypeople In The House say “HAAAYYYYY-OHHHHHH“!

      (cocks hand to ear)

  3. Platypussies

    1. You’re thinking of the FTC.

  4. c) We skip the massive beuracracy, but use existing fraud laws to void the purchases, and to punish companies where appropriate.

    If a company approached my kid on the street and asked them to sign a mortgage, there’s no way that would be considered a valid contract. That doesn’t change because the company contacted the kid via the internet.

    1. If your kid walks into a store with cash from your wallet and buys something is that fraud? Nope.

    2. Because Amazon should know who’s using my credit card to make purchases?

      Seriously – I have one of these for my kids and it’s not hard to prevent them from making purchases. In fact their total purchases to date have been…wait for it…$0.

      1. Because Amazon should know who’s using my credit card to make purchases?

        Some guy named “Last American Hero” sent me an e-mail claiming he’d give me $1000 next week if I sent him $20. Now I didn’t check if it was you, but should I know who’s using your name to make purchases?

      2. Whether it’s hard or not is irrelvant. It’s not my obligation to actively stop companies from improperly extending credit to random people because they think they’re me. If I didn’t personal approve the debt, I’m not responsible for it. PERIOD.

        1. Then it’s the child that’s committing the fraud, not Amazon or the company that made the app.

          1. No, if you read the actual complaint, the app asks for a password for the supposed purpose approving a single transaction, but then allows additional purchases to be made without asking for further approval. Every transaction after the approved one is fraudulent.

            Again, this doesn’t require the FTC to get involved. The un-approved transactions should merely be void in the event Amazon sues.

            1. Every transaction after the approved one is fraudulent.

              No, I suspect the vast, vast majority of transactions after the initial approval are 100% legit.

              I know mine are.

    3. Punish the companies for the parents being stupid enough to give their kid their phone already enabled for in-app purchases? WTF?

    4. Er, what? These companies aren’t contacting anyone.

  5. These “games” are designed to take advantage of kids, but unlike say, a box of Captain Crunch, it is all too easy for junior to get into trouble.

  6. Even when I’m logged in to Amazon, it’ll ask me to re-type my password at strange times. Like when I simply want to use the Improve My Recommendations feature.

    I think it would be hilarious if a kid managed to order one of those hundred thousand dollar watches they sell. But I imagine currently existing safeguards would prevent that.

    1. I’ll go out on a limb and say that most people, in fact probably nobody, has that kind of limit with their credit card.

      1. Sometimes to joke reviews are pure gold…

        Buying this Watch was a Mistake
        By S___ M_______ on May 3, 2014
        I was surfing Amazon the other day and, because Amazon makes it so easy, with one click shopping, to buy things, I accidentally bought this watch.

        I had to sell my house and my wife left me, but at least I know what time it is.

        1. Yes, Amazon reviews for watches costing a few grand and higher tend to be pretty funny. I saw another one where the guy praised the time-traveling capability of a Rolex, but complained there was no teleportation feature.

          Those are the reviews that make me glad Amazon has very loose quality control to determine if customer reviews are acceptable or not. It is annoying when people review albums they admit they haven’t listened to, though.

    2. Well, clearly that’s overpriced.

      This is worth every penny

      1. Blech, pre-owned? Are we in Hicksville?

        1. Are you Bloomberg?

      2. Meh. Why settle for the Double Split Platinum when you can get the Langematic Perpetual Platinum?

    3. Mother of gaudy.

  7. I’m just curious:

    Since the FTC is suing people, I guess there must be a “law” that is being broken.

    Which law would that be?

    1. There are too many laws on the books to not be guilty of something all the time.

  8. I’m not wild about Amazon not requiring a password every time you do something that costs you money, but this is not the way to solve that problem.

    1. I’m not wild about Amazon not requiring a password every time you do something that costs you money, but this is not the way to solve that problem.

      The feature is off by default and must be specifically activated.

      Like saying I’m not wild with someone being able to call up my cable provider and tell them to bill ‘Thrilla in Manila’ on PPV to my cable bill, IMO.

      1. OMG. You mean I have to click a couple times and swipe!

        The humanity!

        1. Your honor, MegaloMonocle failed to completely the simple registration process at, therefore he obviously consented to my breaking in an taking all his stuff. I mean he just had to click a couple of times.

          1. Burn that straw man, stormy.

      2. The feature is off by default and must be specifically activated.

        Except it wasn’t off by default. It was only mostly off. If the phone was set to require a password everytime, putting it in once would still let additional purchases to be made for a period of time without additional approval.

  9. Or, as HuffPo puts it:

    Amazon Sued For Making It Way Too Easy For Kids To Spend Money…..75502.html

    HuffPo: Everything the government does is right!

    1. More accurate headline:

      Amazon Sued Because Parents Make It Way Too Easy For Their Kids to Spend Money.

  10. Thats why you rol lwith the punches lol.

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