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How To Avoid "Getting Gamed"

By Carl Weiss
Courtesy of Flickr

In 2012 we wrote about how the public's "app-etite"  for free games and other apps could bring with it lots of serious consequences.  In that article we, (and the radio show from the same time) we wrote about the dangers of free android apps. Now many gaming app developers are targeting your kids as well.  Would you give your eight year old a credit card?  Of course not.  But that is what in essence has happened to many parents who allowed their children to play “free” game apps online, only to discover the following month that they had been billed hundreds or even thousands of dollars. 

In a recent blog by, “C.W. of Simsbury said he was stunned in March when he discovered that his eight year old son ran up more than $7,600 in four days playing games, free games like Dragonvale and Tiny Tower – games that encourage children to use real money to purchase virtual objects to make the games more fun.”

It Was Not Fun

Apple Store
Apple Store (Photo credit: afagen)
Fun was not the word that C.W. used when he complained to his credit card company, who subsequently deleted the charges and refused to pay the app developer.  He was lucky, but many other parents were not.  Parents from as far away as Australia have felt the bite of these apps. They are designed to hook the child into playing the game, only to create anxiety for the child urging them to click on links, authorizing the payment processor to charge your credit card for more purchases.  Furthermore, the language used online to elicit payment is frequently confusing or even misleading.  
In a televised interview produced by the Australian Broadcast Corporation, Elise Davidson from the consumer group ACCAN states that the wording on some games is confusing. “It’s not really clear that you are spending real money.”    

iTunes (Photo credit:  áhamin - free lancer)
Worst of all, instead of insisting on more stringent rules, including default parental consent in order to make a purchase, the interview goes on to explain that the companies who profit from these games, including Apple which owns iTunes, put the onus back on the parents' shoulders.  Meanwhile, app developers are free to exploit the psychological vulnerabilities inherent in youngsters.

MARK TEXTOR, MD, CROSBY TEXTPR GROUP explains it this way: “They're games, yes, but they're seen to be addictive games which are monetised, and those three together spell, well, this is gambling for infants.”

And it’s not game that parents are likely to win, especially when companies like Apple have designed all their devices to work off the same password.  Since Apple introduced in-app purchasing, developers have seen a quantum leap in profitability.  Consumers on the other hand have been seeing red, since this system has led to a blank check purchasing mechanism that puts a parent at risk of their child making any number of purchases using everything from iPhones, to iPads, iPods and even Apple TV.  And while Apple says that parents can enable restrictions on their devices to prevent access to specific features, for many this is seen as too little too late.

I would be remiss if I did not provide you with a list of common apps to avoid or a list of preventative measures you could put in place to prevent such events.  To avoid getting gamed, go to this blog on to learn how to disable in-app purchases:

Here is my short list of questions and  consideration you need to take into account before using or buying any application on the Internet.

  1. Who built the app? – Research the author and company.
  2. How long has it been out? – The longer the better.
  3. How many downloads does it have? – large numbers in the thousands are best.
  4. What is the ratio of good to bad reviews? – You want at least a 70/30 split here.
  5. What is its overall rating? - I never download an app with less than a 4 rating
  6. Check the apps permissions setting – If it can access your data it will.
  7. Only download apps for either the Apple  iPhone store or Google Play Store.
  8. Does Web of Trust flag it as bad, Maybe bad or OK?
  9. Did you research the app by doing a Google search on it?
  10. Is the app listed  on forensic blog – Current android malware list.
  11. Do you have an anti malware app running to protect your device?
  12. Don’t download APK packages; they overwrite or replace files on your device.

In this article I discussed the growing problem of app abuse. I have discussed how this is no longer and android problem but a smart device problem. I have discussed how it is tricking our kids into spending our money. How so called free apps often come with lots of strings attach. How these strings have hooks that are designed to play on our emotions to buy things we don’t really want. The notes section on this blog have lots of links you can use to research this subject. They were collected for the BlogTalk radio show we did bareing the same name (Getting Gamed).  If you liked this article pass it on to your friends. If you know of a great site that reviews free apps mention it in our comment box. Spread the word and protect what’s yours.  

If you like this article, you can find more by typing in "mobile" in the search box at the top left of this blog. If you found this article useful, share it with your friends, families and co-works. If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the Comment sections below.  If you would like a free copy of our book, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century," fill out the form on the top right side bar.

Since 1995, Carl Weiss has been helping clients succeed online.  He owns and operates several online marketing businesses, including Working the Web to Win and Jacksonville Video Production. He also co-hosts the weekly radio show, "Working the Web to Win," every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on

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