Apple alters app purchases in iOS 4.3

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Children enjoying the digital delights of Smurfs’ Village and other popular iOS games will have a harder time purchasing additional items within the app without first entering a password, thanks to a new safety precaution implemented by Apple in iOS 4.3.

Some iOS games, like Capcom's Smurfs' Village, offer in-app purchases for extra game elements.
When users enter their Apple ID and password to buy an app or make an in-app purchase, the device stores that password for 15 minutes. This time window was initially implemented so that users wouldn’t have to repeatedly re-enter information if making multiple purchases at one time; unfortunately, it appears that children were also taking advantage of this to rack up unexpected charges when playing games with in-app purchases, since those purchases would not require the password entered again.

Over the last few months, parents and government agencies alike have expressed concern over how Apple and app makers handle the issue. With iOS 4.3, Apple changed things up: there are now two separate 15-minute windows: one for purchases from the App Store, and one for in-app purchases. So after a purchase is made from the App Store, you can continue to make other purchases from the App Store without entering your password—but try to make an in-app purchase, and you’ll be prompted to enter your password again.

Apple representative Trudy Muller spoke with the Washington Post on the matter, noting that “[Apple is] proud to have industry-leading parental controls with iOS.” The company has always provided restriction controls on iOS devices that allowed users to turn off the installation or deletion of an app, as well as switch off in-app purchases entirely. Added Muller, “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.”

It remains to be seen whether this change will affect the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation on the matter.

Updated 3/30 with changes to clarify the addition of a second 15-minute window for in-app purchases.

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