Extortionately priced Smurfberries lead to Apple payout


Apple has agreed to pay up to $100 million in compensation to parents whose children made in-app purchases without their knowledge. But the settlement only covers a specific 45 day period and won’t protect parents with the same problem today.

The case doesn’t involve purchases of apps themselves, but rather in-app purchases such as for virtual goods in games. It centers on a change Apple made that meant that if you used your password to download an app, you could then make in-app purchases for the next 15 minutes without needing to reenter the password.

That was bad news for parents who gave into nagging kids and downloaded a “free” game and let them borrow the iOS device to play it. In some cases the children managed to rack up hundreds of dollars of purchases within the 15 minute period.

This wasn’t always a case of kids hammering the buy button. As illustrated above, some games such as Smurfs’ Village have in-app charges of up to $99.99 for a single purchase, something it seems virtually impossible any clear-headed adult is going to buy.

Apple has now settled a class action suit, though it isn’t based on the concept of in-app purchases, nor the extortionate price of Smurfberries. Instead it’s specifically based on the way Apple introduced the 15-minute window without making the change clear to users.

The payments will only cover the period between the introduction of the window and Apple then introducing an option to let users require a password for all in-app purchases, regardless of timing. As far as Apple and its lawyers are concerned, that option is enough to put full legal responsibility for all purchases back in the hands of device owners.

Apple plans to contact every customer with an in-app purchase on their account during the 45 days, but not all will qualify. To make a claim, you’ll have to show the purchase was made by a child and that you didn’t give them the password. You aren’t eligible if Apple has already given a discretionary refund.

There’s been some confusion in reports of the payment amounts, but it is explained in the proposed settlement document. You have two options, the first of which is to simply make a general claim that at least one of the in-app purchases was made by a child; if approved you’ll get a $5 iTunes store credit, regardless of the cost of the original purchase.

The second option is to submit a complete list of all the relevant apps (with a statement for each that it was a child making the purchase.) If the list is approved you’ll get credit matching the actual amount of the purchases; if it’s more than $30 you can ask for cash instead.

As part of the note informing customers they may be eligible to make a claim, Apple has agreed to include a reminder of how to disable the 15-minute windows for in-app purchases without a password.

And in a fantastic example of how the legal system works, the proposed settlement will give a maximum payout of $1,500 apiece to the five Apple customers who brought the lawsuit, but a total of $1.3 million to their lawyers.