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Thursday, March 10, 2011, 01:00 pm PT (04:00 pm ET)

iOS 4.3 now requires password for in app purchases

Responding to complaints from parents whose children made expensive in app purchases immediately after downloading a new game, Apple has changed its in app purchase policy to require a password.

Previously, once users entered their password for an app purchase, iOS opened a fifteen minute window during which additional purchases could be made without reentering the password. This also applied to in app purchases.

But some parents who purchased a new game for their children discovered that within the first fifteen minutes, their children had incurred in app charges up into the hundreds of dollars, according to a report by the Washington Post.

A variety of iOS games have a business model oriented around in app purchases, often making gameplay essentially contingent upon buying items. Without parental controls in place to prevent children from making the purchases, such titles can quickly get expensive.

The Washington State Attorney General’s office began looking into the matter in December, and the US Federal Trade Commission became involved shortly afterward. Mass. state Representative Ed Markey referred to Apple's in app purchases policy as "deceitful marketing," and the report noted that public interest groups have asked "why $99 barrels for 'snowflakes' and 'Smurfberries' are in a children-focused game, when children may not understand that they are racking up real charges."

Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller addressed the change in policy by saying in a statement, "we are proud to have industry-leading parental controls with iOS,” noting that users have been able to restrict in-app purchases to protect their iTunes accounts from accidental charges within Parental Controls settings from the start.

“With iOS 4.3, in addition to a password being required to purchase an app on the App Store, a reentry of your password is now required when making an in-app purchase,” Muller explained.

iOS Parental Controls

Under Settings / General / Restrictions, parents can prevent their children from downloading new apps, deleting existing apps, making in app purchases, or downloading apps or other iTunes content by rating. Specific apps that can be used to download content or interact with strangers can also be blocked, including Safari, YouTube, and FaceTime.

Other settings include restricting the use of Location Services, changing account settings, and blocking multiplayer games or the ability to add strangers as friends within the Game Center multi-gaming platform. Once set, the settings are protected by a PIN code.

In contrast, Google's Android platform and its Android Market offer no parental controls on buying or browsing apps or in app purchases, while the Android Market itself contains unfiltered nudity and other adult content that parents might not want their children to access.