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 Ezone.com 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.