Saturday, 12 July 2014

The unethical rise of In-App purchases in education

So this is a post I have been meaning to write for sometime.  I have been disturbed and worried about the behaviour of educational app developers over the past 12 months. Not just the small developers, but the big ones, including Apple. As a small developer and Primary school teacher I think I can speak from experience and with some objectivity.

Developers seem to follow a structure these days in the education/entertainment markets with App development. Bring in an amazing FREE App, develop a huge fan base (downloads), and then sneak in In-App purchases over a period of time. Do I have a problem with this? Yes, especially when the App targets students in schools under the age of 13! Especially when the App has been initially targeted for the education market and young students! Yes, especially when young students don't have apple ID's, credit cards or the experience/decision making ability to say yes or no with a calm, reflective mind.

Just because you can do it developers - doesn't make it right!

So when did this all start. For me it was with Apple! As a huge advocate for Apple products and being an Apple Distinguished Educator this may not be a wise move for me personally, but it needs to be said. Garage Band is used through schools worldwide for FREE. An amazing, creative, inspiring App that has been used to create compositions of the highest quality. Not long ago they offered the base instruments for FREE but with In-App purchases for other instruments. This made educators across the world furious. The reason I am disappointed with Apple's decision to offer Garage Band with In-App purchases is because of their commitment to the education sector. It has been significant and I have seen this first hand, in regard to the support and the growing network they have built for teachers and school organisations. They are the leaders, the role models for smaller developers like myself. They should know better.

Next came Tellagami, and then the amazing Hopscotch. The trend continues. After world wide outcry some of these developers are offering EDU versions of their App for a price. Great, thank you. In education we can work with this, and budget for it! But we will not stand for money grabbing tactics that target the most vulnerable, the most enthusiastic - our young students.

It is time developers started to reach out to educators, parents, the guardians and build a model that is ethically and financially sustainable of both developers, young people and care givers. I know that I am here to offer suggestions to developers - just reach out. But I will not be silent in the worrying trend that is developing.

We ask our students to be great digital citizens. I ask that our adults do the same.