Smartphone and tablet bill shock – there’s help at hand

Over the last few months, there have been a number of high profile stories in the national media of parents suffering from bill shock as a result of their children purchasing apps on smartphones and tablets without their parents’ permission.

These individual case studies prompted the Office for Fair Trading (OFT) to launch an investigation into whether apps and games put undue pressure on children to pay for additional content.

To gain a greater understanding of the behaviours affecting this, we carried out research with over 2,000 UK parents and the findings are very insightful.

Demonstrating the severity of the issue, kids’ unauthorised app purchases have added £30 million1 to UK parents’ smartphone and tablet bills. With over a quarter of UK parents suffering from this and over eight out of ten (83%) suffering from an increased monthly bill as a result, it’s important that parents can trust in the technology they use and feel as safe as possible when handing over their smartphone and tablet devices to their children

The latest Windows Phone handsets, which run the Windows Phone 8 operating system introduced in late 2012, have an exclusive Kid’s Corner feature. This allows parents to confidently hand their Windows Phone to their kids, having easily and precisely set-up what their children can and can’t access. In-app purchases are automatically prohibited in Kid’s Corner – Windows Phones are the only smartphones with this feature. Separate accounts and the Family Safety Tool also provides safety for Windows 8 PC and tablet users.

Causing stress and worry, over one in ten (14%) of the ‘bill shocked’ parents were concerned that they couldn’t afford to pay their increased bill, with over a third (34%) of UK parents now hiding their smartphone and tablet from their kids. Nonetheless, 17% of UK parents still share their smartphone and tablet passwords with their children, with nearly a quarter (23.5%) of parents not having a security password at all.

The findings reveal for those parents who have suffered from unauthorised app or in-app purchases, eight year olds are running up the largest app costs, having added on average an extra £59.59 to their parents’ smartphone or tablet bill. And, demonstrating the widespread issue of ‘accidental’ buys by very young children, well over a third (36%) of kids aged four and under have made app and in-app purchases without permission.

The research reveals that fun-loving kids are spending on average three hours and 21 minutes a week playing smartphone games and apps. Surprisingly, one in ten parents give their children free rein to access whatever content they want and over half (54%) link their smartphone or tablet to a subscription service or direct debit account that can be easily accessed.

As well as the financial implications of the unsupervised use of a parent’s smartphone or tablet, there is also the risk of social media pranks. Over a quarter (27%) of kids have sneakily updated a parent’s Facebook status, and one in five (20%) updated their Twitter status. Potentially causing a career limiting move, one in ten kids have also hijacked a parent’s Facebook profile to comment on or insult their boss.

Indicating the ‘app-titude’ of tech savvy children, two-thirds of parents admit their children know as much or the same about technology as they do. Demonstrating the need for support, over three quarters (77%) believe parents need more help from technology companies to manage their kids’ app behaviours.

It’s clear that unauthorised app purchases are a genuine problem for parents. Our advice to our customers is to ensure they are vigilant with the devices they provide to children – and strongly encourage them to use Kid’s Corner on their Windows Phones, and separate accounts and the Family Safety Tool on their Windows PC and Tablet devices to ensure maximum protection and peace of mind

For transparency into the £30 million figure, here’s how the calculation was worked out:

1 ONS 2012 figures calculated to equal one parent in each family unit

  • Married couple: 4,610,000
  • Civil partner couple: 6,000
  • Opposite sex cohabiting couple family: 1,131,000
  • Same sex cohabiting couple family: 6,000
  • Lone parent: 1,986,000
  • Total = 7,739,000
  • Calculated using a conservative estimate of 50% penetration for smartphones amongst working age population of Great Britain based on

Kantar and YouGov technology tracker for smartphone data and ONS for number of UK parents. To provide a fair analysis of smartphone usage amongst UK parents – calculation is based on 50% of total number of UK parents using smartphone, focusing on just one parent for each family unit. 50% of 7,739,000 = 3,869,500

Research asked respondents:

  • ‘Does your child make app and in-app purchases on your tablet or phone without permission?’ – 28.15% answered Yes.
  • Of those parents 82.96% answered Yes to ‘If your child makes app and in-app purchases, have you suffered from ‘bill shock’ and noticed and increase in your monthly bill statement?’
  • Of these, £34.18 was the average for ‘How much do you estimate your children’s app or in-app purchases added to your monthly phone or tablet bill?’
  • Therefore, 28.15% of 3,869,500 parents = 1,089,264 parents. 82.95% of 1,089,264 parents X £34.18 = £30,883,157 (monthly spend on unauthorised apps and in-app purchases)