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How to avoid kids racking up large iTunes bills from in-app purchases and data use abroad

While most of us can’t afford to have one iPad or iPhone each in the family, we rely on sharing the popular devices. These devices can be great tools for both learning and entertainment for kids, and many of us will let them use them for both purposes, be it at home or out travelling. There are however hidden dangers, as we have read so much about recently with stories about kids racking up high iTunes bills through in-app purchases, or through use of data when abroad. So, what can we do to avoid these unnecessary charges? There are several things that we hope Apple will improve on in the future when it comes to this, but in the mean time you can apply some of the hints and tips below to avoid these high bills.

Block access to in-app purchases

A large majority of apps that we download are ‘freemium’ apps, relying on you making in-app purchases to earn their money, especially when it comes to games. If you have your iTunes account set up to remember your bank account or credit card, making a purchase is as simple as supplying your iTunes password, and depending on your settings (and iOS version) the password could be remembered for up to 15 minutes after initial purchase, allowing for further purchases to be made without having to resupply the password. Also, don’t underestimate your children’s ability to ‘crack’ your password.

In the latest versions of iOS you can apply restrictions in settings that makes your iPad a lot more kid friendly. Restrictions can be accessed through Settings -> General -> Restrictions where you can disable amongst other the following:

  • Installing apps
  • Deleting apps
  • Facetime
  • iTunes
  • Turn off in-app purchases
  • YouTube and Safari
  • Game Center

Setting access restrictions on iPad

Once you enable restrictions, you will be asked to enter a four digit passcode that will be used to access the restrictions again once they are enabled. This can provide a decent level of protection against unforeseen usage by kids, but it would be useful to be able to restrict access to the settings app as well, as this method is not foolproof.

 

Use iTunes giftcards instead of credit card for payment

Sometimes restrictions to in-app purchases and downloads is not the right solution as you want the child to be able to get the most out of and enjoy their experience, be it with a game or other app. One option then is to unlink your credit card / bank account from your iTunes account, and instead buy iTunes gift cards that can be used to redeem purchases, whether new apps or in-app purchases. Here are the steps to take:

  • Purchase an iTunes gift card for the amount that you are willing to allow the kid to spend
  • Log into your iTunes account and go to account information
  • Under the Apple iD section, go to Payment type and Redeem giftcard

 

Avoid high roaming or WiFi charges

This is especially relevant when abroad, but could also be equally relevant when out and about at home, as most of us would have restrictions on data traffic on our mobile tariff.

If you have a mobile data enabled iPad, then disabling roaming when abroad is always recommended. If you have a roaming dataplan, you could still use restrictions to ensure that certain services, like YouTube, iTunes (for downloads) etc. are not available for kids to use, especially if you are charged by amount of data.

Other services that could easily rack up a lot of data usage are Facetime and Skype for video calls. Disabling the use of these when not connected to a free WiFi is always a good idea.

 

Conclusion

Don’t be afraid to let your kids play with your iPad, as it can be both educational and entertaining. Who knows, they might in the future develop the next big app. But do take precautions to avoid any unwanted debt surprises, and kids accessing unwanted material, using amongst other the tips and hints stated above.

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