Thinking about this, any of us could let our kids make too many in-app purchases. Yet if you're the sort to ignore all the warnings that Apple gives you when it's happening, let alone to not wonder if there are ways to prevent it, then you're probably not reading this Pointers. So maybe you personally won't get a great deal of benefit from our showing you how to prevent this stuff happening, but you might be able to score a point or two in a conversation.
Next time you meet someone who complains that it's all Apple's fault and that the company should do something about their kid spending, say, $5,800 on Jurassic World in-app purchases
, get out your iPhone. Take out your phone and brandish a finger like a magician, then make a show of tapping a couple of times and lastly murmur something like "You were saying?"
It really is that simple. The reason you may not know it is that you've never had to know but then you've also presumably not had daily emails from Apple saying ouch, do you know what's being spent on your account?
This Pointers was tested on an iPhone 6 running iOS 9.2 but this whole solution goes back a ways. Possibly to the Jurassic era, in fact, and that does make us wonder: what in the world can that game have that costs $5,800? (Full disclosure: we got the game in order to take a screenshot with the in-app purchases and our brains numbed over before we got anywhere near to where we could spend cash.)
Don't do it on my account
There are a couple of things you can do to control your kids' spending on the App Store but let's just punch through with the first, biggest, most no-holds-barred version. Get out your iPhone or iPad and tap on Settings. Then tap General, scroll down a long way, tap on Restrictions and finally tap again on Enable Restrictions.
You'll be asked to enter a passcode specifically to prevent purchases. This is different to having a passcode to open your phone so don't use the same one for both. Especially not if you've ever been driven mad by pestering children and have finally told them your passcode just to get an easier life.
As you'd imagine, you will then be asked to re-enter the same code to confirm it but when you've done that, an entire world of censorship –– sorry, restrictions –– opens up to you. Scroll down a bit to the second block of icons: these are all about online purchases.
At a minimum, flick the In-App Purchases slider to off and you're done, no more $5,800 bills for you. While you're at it, you could also switch off Installing Apps entirely –– and even disable getting anything from the iTunes Store. This section also solves that other problem of kids deleting your apps because they're rubbish. One flick of a slider and they can't delete anything. That'll teach 'em.
There are other ways
Your kid is different. Your kid is responsible and moreover is unfortunately resourceful. Curses. If you can't lock 'em out with a passcode, at least not without accidentally letting slip what that is, then you can treat them as more mature. You can make them beg for it.
This takes more setting up and is only useful if they have their own iOS device but you as the bill payer can enable Family Sharing and then restrict it. Sort of give with one hand and take away with the other. Enabling Family Sharing means that, if an app developer has allowed it, you can buy one copy of the app and have several people use it. Equally, anyone in the family can buy an app and have it be available to everyone –– but as the poor soul who pays the money, you can have a say in it. Specifically, you can set up Ask to Buy or at least you can if they're under 18.
We admit to having some trouble finding any under-18s to test this but we can show you most of the route. On your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings again but this time iCloud. When it comes up, tap on Family and it will take you to a list of people sharing your family account.
If they are under 18 then you get the option to switch on Ask to Buy. If they try to buy any app or any in-app purchase then you are notified and have to explicitly give permission. One curiosity is that you can keep this Ask to Buy on forever, regardless of their age, but if you ever switch it off after their 18th birthday, you cannot switch it back on again.
-William Gallagher (@WGallagher