The FTC is reviewing Apple's in-app purchasing policy after reports of inadvertent purchases by children have continued to surface. FTC Chairperson Jon Leibowitz agreed to look closely at the matter after Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts brought the matter to his attention.
Leibowitz will most likely focus on Apple's 15-minute window, a single instance sign-in that lets iOS users log in once and make additional purchases and downloads for the next 15 minutes. It is during this 15-minute window that children left unattended with a device are able to rack up huge charges.
The latest such incident involving exorbitant charges by children involves the Smurf's Village app. In this incident, the child reportedly purchased berries and other items totaling a whopping US$1400. Earlier reports singled out Fishies by Playmesh, a virtual aquarium game for children. Fishies offers pearls for your tank which can cost as much as $149. Children hooked on the game and playing unattended have charged hundreds of dollars to their parents' iTunes account.
Apple has combated this problem by pointing out that parents can block all in-app purchases using iOS 4's parental controls. The ability to turn off in-app purchases places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the parents who should lock their iPhone, iPad or iPod touch before handing it over to their children. Though these parental controls may be enough to thwart any action from the FTC, Apple may also decide to limit this 15-minute window and require a password for each in-app purchase.
To disable in-app purchasing on your iOS device, go to Settings > General > Restrictions and enter a passcode when asked. Then, tap on "Enable Restrictions" and scroll down to "In-App Purchases" and flick the toggle to "OFF."