Could In-App Purchase Authorization Be The Next Great Controversy on Android?

Could In-App Purchase Authorization Be The Next Great Controversy on Android?

Aug 22, 2011

The release of Diversion 1.2 this past week brought new in-app purchases for buying gems, the game’s in-app currency. However, a thorny issue has popped up with this feature that has led to developer removing the feature entirely upon their realization that there is no authentication or password prompt necessary to make an in-app purchase on Android. One user has already stated on their Facebook fan page that they barely stopped their child from purchasing the biggest gem pack available. As such, the feature has been removed from the game until further notice.

This is one of the first times that in-app purchases have been an issue on the Android Market. This controversy has burned hot on the iOS App Store, especially with games that have kid-friendly elements, like Smurfs Village on iOS. That game in particular has been a firebrand of controversy for its in-app purchases, as many anecdotes of children purchasing massive amounts of that game’s in-app credits, appropriately titled Smurfberries, spread across the internet. The problem was in part that if a user had put their password in on the App Store in the last 15 minutes, then apps requesting permission for purchases wouldn’t require them. Thus, it would be easy for someone to accidentally purchase big-money items without knowing. Thus, children that might not have any idea of the value of money could unknowingly spend hundreds of dollars buying their smurfberries and other credits. While the ability to restrict in-app purchases does exist in iOS, parents were likely unaware of this feature, or just had their children playing on their own phones. This controversy got to a point where Apple actually made in-app purchases have a separate password request for authorizing purchases.

It’s a surprise, then, that the Android Market hasn’t had a similar controversy in regards to in-app purchases. After all, purchases on Android require no password input at all, either through the Market or through apps. With the rapid growth of free to play and freemium titles on iOS, and the way that Android is often home to ports from iOS, the likelihood of even more free to play and freemium games appearing is high. With this possibility and with the Android’s far less restrictive authentication, this could soon be a hot-button issue unless Google addresses it in much the same way Apple did.

Carter Dotson
Carter Dotson, editor of Android Rundown, has been covering Android since late 2010, and the mobile industry as a whole since 2009. Originally from Texas, he has recently moved to Chicago. He loves both iOS and Android for what they are - we can all get along!
Connect with Carter Dotson // email // www
  • 11/2/2011 – My 3 year old daughter just bought $10.95 worth of “5000 Happy Stars” from within the game “Clouds & Sheep” on my android tablet. No password required to make the purchase. I played with the app myself for more than an hour to test it’s appropriateness & safety for her and did not at all notice the in-app purchase abilities. The game description in the Android Market has no description of it’s ability to purchase in-app items.  Outraged, I wrote the developer demanding a refund. ( I have yet to hear anything from them. 

    As a measure to protect against this in the future my only choice was to remove ALL payment methods from my Google Checkout account 

    The problem with this method is that it takes away the convenience of using Google Checkout now that I’ll have to re-add my payment method prior to EVERY single transaction; and all because they can’t simply include some type of internal restriction of in-app purchases.

  • There’s a PIN you can set in the settings menu of Android Market before pruchases can be made. Try setting that up.

  • Anonymous

    My daughter just purchased 5000 “happy stars” accidentally through the game Clouds and Sheep.  This is a racket, beware of free games…

  • mad dad

    my son just purchased $600 worth of these kinds of items on our Google Android device. I’m appauled that there isn’t a password for Google Wallet to make purchases. As a user of ipod, I only assumed the bare minimum of security would be available. Requiring a password to make a purchase!

  • meriad

    my niece also bought the 5000 happy stars for £90.00 ????   I contacted the company who don’t give a damn.   They said I should dispute it with Google Apps which I’m now going to try and do.  

    I’ve now set my android market to make sure that all future apps and in-apps purchases require a passcode but cannot believe that wasn’t a standard default setting on the  google market?

  • That is actually something that I am confused about as well – it seems like it should be the default, and having the password pre-entered should be an option the user has to enable?