Saturday, 9 March 2013

Why my two-year old is calling adult services on the iPhone

I'm pretty steamed about this. My two-year old daughter, like most children, loves playing with our phones. We try to limit the time, but when she plays with them, we do have age-appropriate applications for her. One of these applications is the Baby Flash Cards application by eFlashApps, LLC. We downloaded the free version to try it out and our daughter loves it. Here's what one of the animal flash cards looks like:



There are several interesting things to note about this. First, the "previous" and "next" buttons are new. This app used to be far more user-friendly: you could swipe or double tap that picture to get to the next animal. Guess which is easier to use for a baby? Obviously the prev/next buttons are going to be very difficult for a baby to navigate, but you notice how they are so close to that ad?  By making the app harder to use, the company made it much more likely that your baby would click on the ads when using free version.

And you know what? I sort of sympathize with the company on that one. It's not a nice thing to do, but when you use the free version of an app, you accept this sort of thing. It did mean, however, that we were not going to buy the application. If it's hard to use when free, there's no point paying for it.

 It was hard enough for our daughter that we were going to get a different flash card app, but our daughter got the hang of those buttons (a younger child might not of), so we let it slide. We figured that for learning English (we live in France), if she sometimes clicks an ad, that's a small price to pay.

We were wrong.

If you look at the above screenshot, you'll notice the ad at the bottom. I'm not typing out the URL or even the name because I don't want that company to get more exposure, but here's what their Web site looks like:



If you're reading this, there's a good chance that you don't read French, but you can guess whether or not the above Web site is age appropriate for a two-year old (the buxom brunette has dialog about buying a sex toy). This is some Web site about making prank phone calls. However, it's worse than you would imagine.

The ad on the iPhone doesn't go to this Web site, it directly makes a phone call. And it charges €1.35 to do so ($1.76 USD, if you're curious).

That's right. An advertisement on an iPhone advertisement targeting babies charges you for phone calls for an adult-oriented service.

Our call logs on the phone indicate that this is not the first time our daughter has "dialed" this number (the first time that we've found is last Friday).

I'm guessing that eFlashApps didn't do this deliberately, but I'm not sure. My wife points out that different versions of this ad are showing up on different pages of this app. Even if the company didn't do this deliberately, by making their user interface harder for babies to use, they made it easier for this to happen. I'm not sure how Apple managed to approve an advertisement that can make phone calls to an adult-oriented service, but given that it wound up on a baby application is pretty rotten.

Meanwhile, can someone please tell me where on the Apple Web site I can flag an app/advertiser for inappropriate content?

15 comments:

  1. I've had international calls because friends let their small kids play with their iPhone, which shows you can rack up a phone bill without any apps involved.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But hopefully when you are taking the call you are not talking about sex toys with the little one.

      Delete
  2. You should be able to bring this up with your iTunes account to Apple. They are generally very good about protecting kids from stuff. Do you have parental controls turned on on the phone? It should prevent ads like that showing up on the phone with the baby. If it didn't prevent the ad from showing up, they would want to know about it.

    (Used to work at apple hq)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the suggestion, I did not know about parental control. I will look at it. Otherwise we wrote a review on the application page and are still waiting for it to be approved.

      Delete
  3. We got a second app that I run all the baby apps through. This secondary app locks up the phone so my son doesn't delete stuff and it also prevents him from clicking on ads. The app is called zoodles. I've been very happy with the product and planning on buying the full version soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Zoodles sounds great. We'll check it out, thanks!

      Delete
  4. My kids a bit older but I let them borrow a spare phone without a simcard and wifi disabled.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have a firm rule about apps that may or may not help your situation; I don't buy (or even use if free) ANY app that has in-app purchases or ads. And you can avoid the calling stuff by putting it in airplane mode. If you really want to get medieval, you can also disable networking. I gave miss K my old AT&T iPhone 3gs when it was still locked and we were in CH and there are a number of really great games and educational apps that don't include ads or in-app purchase options so we've been spared the pain of having to explain some awkward things like porn. Check out 'Endless ABC, Intro to Letters, Word Girl (and any of the PBS Kids apps), Awesome Eats and Little Fox" that you may like. Also, keep an eye on the app of the week as you can often get a really great app for free.

    I'd also follow up with apple as the above comment suggested as I think pron ads in kiddie apps is really unacceptable.

    ReplyDelete
  6. If you're going to allow a child to play with your cell phone, ESPECIALLY in apps that have advertisements on the screen, you should have the common sense enough to turn it onto airplane mode. That way they can't call/text/email/open ads.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your insight full comment. I do appreciate the fact that our "lack of common sense" is more shocking to you than the fact that a company has developed an application, for children between 2 and 4 years old, that directly call a paying service and that this service is talking about sex toys.

      It's great to see that you have you priorities right.

      Better blaming the parent than the company that have conceived this app.

      Delete
  7. Guys. Airplane mode is not 'common sense' as you put it. Quit trying to feel superior to the Dad who posted this. In addition to that, having to put a phone in airplane mode is quite inconvenient given that it will also prevent the Dad from receiving calls. But this is the Internet, so I suppose it's the rule to flaunt your 'superiority'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jason. Sadly, getting people to be polite on the Internet is like trying to shovel back the ocean with a fork.

      Delete
    2. I thought I was polite and wasn't feeling superior...granted, I don't let my 6yo play with my own active phone (I'm sure that would be comedy gold), rather my now unlocked AT&T castoff but I'd forget to put the phone into airplane mode myself sometimes. It happens to sleep deprived parents everywhere and it's good to be reminded sometimes. I think the gist of my comment was that, well, you get what you pay for (or don't) since paying for apps usually removes the ads.

      I was talking with Mr. Jark about this last night (since he lets mini me use his iPad and initially grumbled at my rules on apps) and you might have some interesting times getting apple to respond due to, I assume, your account being in the US and the location of the device in the EU. The troubles one has to go to in order to obtain an account as an expat on the wrong side of the atlantic is rather daunting so I'm sure there's some fine print in there somewhere that leaves both the app company and Apple out of the realm of responsibility. Good luck and I'd love to hear what their response it to the porn.

      Delete
    3. hfb: I think the "impolite" comment was generally targeting the person who used the term "common sense", something you did not. I agree that you weren't impolite and the apps you suggested sound great!

      Incidentally, my private hell is my Apple account actually being in the UK while living in France.

      Delete
  8. We have the same problem. But I figured that if you go to settings, there is an option to turn 'swipe' on. That will make next and previous buttons disappear and kid will be able to slide the pages like before. I hope that helps.

    ReplyDelete