FTC sues Amazon over in-game purchases by children

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Online retailer Amazon is accused of hooking millions of dollars from underage users making unauthorized in-app purchases. The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit Thursday charging that the company willingly allowed kids to set up purchases without the consent of their parents.

Though most were for smaller ammounts, some of the charges ranged as high as $99, and typically were for game weapons, clothes and other virtual bullshit installed on its Kindle Fire gadget.

"Amazon’s in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents’ accounts without permission," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez wrote in a press release issued by the comission. "Even Amazon's own employees recognized the serious problem its process created. We are seeking refunds for affected parents and a court order to ensure that Amazon gets parents' consent for in-app purchases."

Amazon's in-app purchase system, established in 2011 to help the firm catch up with competitors Apple and Google, was relatively rudimentary and lacked locks or passwords to prevent unuathorized users racking up huge bills. Within a month, internal emails show that Amazon was aware of "problems" that were "clearly causing problems for a large percentage of our customers," according to the FTC's lawsuit.

Amazon only added passwords months later, and did not apply them to purchases of less than $20 for a year. Even then, according to the suit, Amazon did not disclose that doing so once would enable further purchases for more than an hour.

The FTC settled a similar lawsuit with Apple earlier this year, when the company agreed to institute stricter policies and paid $32.5m in restitution. Amazon, informed of the pending lawsuit, said that it had no plans to change its system as Apple had, and would fight the action.

"We have continuously improved our experience since launch, but even at launch, when customers told us their kids had made purchases they didn't want we refunded those purchases," Amazon's associate general counsel wrote in a response to the commission.

Part of the FTC's suit, however, alleges that the refund process itself is intentionally obscure and "rife with deterrents including statements that consumers cannot, in fact, get a refund for in-app charges."

Games aimed at youngsters are at the heart of the controversy, as they are typically free to download and play, only to bombard the user with enticements to pay for the virtual bullshit. The enticements are often clevery designed to "blur the lines between what costs virtual currency and what costs real money," writes the FTC, using visually similar icons and other psychological manipulations to generate unfair and unexpected charges.

Earlier this week, UK regulators ordered Electronic Arts to stop marketing its sleazy mobile game Dungeon Keeper as free-to-play after gamers complained that it was effectively unplayable without in-game paid upgrades.

@Cnnyourmom: inserting "your mom" into news headlines

@Cnnyourmom is admittedly immature, but works surprisingly well: "Your Mom Forms In Atlantic, Threatens North Carolina" (via JWZ)

News of the Weird: some of Chuck Shepherd's favorites

News of the Weird's Chuck Shepherd, celebrating 25 years yesterday of his wonderful column's weekly distribution deal, posted a few of his favorite stories from the archives:

NewImage(1989) In the mid 1980s, convicted South Carolina murderer Michael Godwin won his appeal to avoid the electric chair and serve only life imprisonment. In March, while sitting naked on a metal prison toilet, attempting to fix a TV set, the 28-year-old Godwin bit into a wire and was electrocuted. [Orlando Sentinel, 3-8-89]

(1991 and later) Gary Arthur Medrow, 47, was arrested in March in Milwaukee (the latest of his then-30-plus arrests over 23 years) for once again causing mischief by telephoning a woman and trying to persuade her to physically pick up another person and to carry her around a room. In the latest incident, after repeatedly calling, he told her another woman had been impersonating her, had been in an accident, and had been seen carrying someone away (and that Medrow needed evidence that she should could or could not do that). He had previously talked cheerleaders, motel workers, and business executives into lifting and carrying. [Milwaukee Sentinel, 3-18-91]

(1988) And finally, there was ol’ Hal Warden, the Tennessee 16-year-old who was married at 15 and granted a divorce from his wife, 13. Hal had previously been married at age 12 to a 14-year-old (and fathered children with both), but the first wife divorced Hal because, she told the judge, "He was acting like a 10-year-old." [The precise citation is inaccessible, but various marital reports on the Wardens are available, e.g., Associated Press, 2-21-1987]

News of the Weird (6/8/14)

NBC airs Edward Snowden's first US TV interview

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NBC released a preview clip from a widely-promoted Brian Williams interview with whistleblower Edward Snowden, which airs tonight, Wednesday May 28, at 10pm EDT. The hour-long interview is the former NSA contractor’s first US television interview since leaking NSA documents to reporters.

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Why did the 9/11 'falling man' image disappear?

fallingman

At Design Observer, a fascinating piece on how photographer Richard Drew's iconic, disturbing image of a man falling to his death from the World Trade Center on 911 has been erased from public view.

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Military-trained dolphins will not be killing Russians

Yes. The US Navy keeps and trains dolphins. No, they are not trained to murder. No, they will not be deployed to Ukraine.

US intel chief's insane new secrecy directive forbids intel employees from "unauthorized" contact with reporters


U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The US Director of National Intelligence has issued a Directive [PDF] that forbids most intelligence community employees from talking to journalists about “intelligence-related information” unless they have explicit authorization to do so.

Intelligence community employees “must obtain authorization for contacts with the media” on any intel-related matters, and “must also report… unplanned or unintentional contact with the media on covered matters,” according to the Directive signed by James Clapper.

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Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel laureate novelist, 1927-2014

Novelist Gabriel García Márquez, whose One Hundred Years of Solitude "established him as a giant of 20th-century literature," died today at his home in Mexico City. He was 87.

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“I F*cking Hate @RuPaul”

Filmmaker, writer, and trans activist Andrea James on the current state of post-disruption journalism and its unhealthy addiction to Twitter, and LGBT brain drain.

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Amazing fire rescue

"Damn, I was gonna get an apartment over there, too. It'll be cheaper now!" [Video Link]

Missing plane "deliberately flew way off course"

Malaysia's military radar data suggests Flight MH370, missing with 239 people on board, veered hundreds of miles off course, on a heading toward the Middle East and Europe. [Reuters]

A crowd-sourced effort to find missing Malaysia Air flight

A satellite imaging company is looking for volunteers to help comb through satellite pictures for evidence of Flight MH370.

The 727 that vanished without a trace in 2003

The ocean is big and deep. The most likely scenario, right now, is that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crashed into the water and no one has yet looked in just the right place to find evidence of that crash. (You can read more about losing planes in the age of GPS in a post Rob made earlier today.) But the case made me curious about other lost planes — cases where an aircraft just "vanished" and nobody ever found a crash site or debris.

Naturally, Wikipedia has a list for that ...

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Guilty plea in Fox News leak case shows why Espionage Act prosecutions are unfair to reporters' sources


Stephen Jin-Woo Kim. Image: Stephen Kim Legal Defense Trust.

Former State Department official Stephen Kim announced today he will plead guilty to leaking classified information to Fox News journalist James Rosen and will serve 13 months in jail.

The case sparked controversy last year when it was revealed the Justice Department named Rosen a “co-conspirator” in court documents for essentially doing his job as a journalist. But a largely ignored ruling in Kim’s case may have far broader impact on how sources interact with journalists in the future.

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European companies cut off US supply of death penalty drugs

Over the last decade, the drugs used in lethal injection executions in the United States have fallen into short supply, as the mostly European companies that manufacture those drugs cut off their availability in protest of the death penalty. States are beginning to run out of stockpiles of pentobarbital and sodium thiopental. Instead, they're turning to combinations of what drugs are still available. The results could change the case on whether lethal injection represents cruel and unusual punishment. In Ohio last week, a prisoner took 25 minutes to die, struggling and gasping for breath all the while.