How many British kids are spending money in apps without permission?

There’s been a lot of debate recently about children spending money buying virtual items in apps without their parents’ permission, including some infamous cases where four-figure bills were run up.

Now Microsoft has published the results of a survey of 2,000 smartphone and tablet-owning parents in the UK trying to get to the bottom of how big this problem is.

28% of parents surveyed said their kids had bought apps and in-app purchases without their permission, and of those, 83% said they’d suffered from “bill shock” when seeing how much they’d spent at the end of the month.

What’s more, bill-shocked parents said their kids had spent an average of £34.18, although it’s a little fuzzy whether this is entirely unauthorised purchases. Even so, Microsoft is using that figure to claim that the monthly spend on unauthorised apps and in-app purchases is just under £30.9m in the UK alone.

Why is Microsoft conducting such a survey? It wants to remind parents about the Kid’s Corner feature in its Windows Phone 8 smartphones (pictured), which blocks in-app purchases and restricts other features on the device. It’s thus in the company’s interests to highlight big numbers like that £30.9m figure.

However, 2,000 parents is a good sample size, so the findings shouldn’t be dismissed. They also provide a reminder of the importance of parents keeping their app store passwords private. 17% of parents surveyed said they share their passwords with their children, for example.

According to industry analyst comScore, only 4.4% of smartphones in use this March in the UK were running Windows Phone, compared to 49.8% Android, 28% iPhone and 12.3% BlackBerry. Kid’s Corner is a great idea, then, but one that’s only being used by a minority of parents at the moment.

We wonder if Apple and Google may launch similar features for iOS and Android in the coming months – Apple is expected to announce the next major version of its iOS software, iOS 7, in early June – to match what Microsoft has been doing. In the UK, too, the Office of Fair Trading is investigating the area of children’s apps and IAP.

In the meantime, we can’t stress enough how important it is for parents to understand the way restrictions work on their devices, and to not share their app store passwords with children.

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