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.



  1. I do not really see this as a huge problem in the Education Sector. Any time I have encountered an App with in-app purchases I loved and wanted to use in the classroom, I simply reached out to the developer and let them know. To be honest, you would be surprised how many have no idea that we cannot purchase in-app purchases in the Education field. I worked with Andy at Toontastic when they first released their App and it had an in-App purchase. The easiest fix is for them to make a full price App that has all the bells and whistles included in the full price. Hopefully they participate in the Education store and give you half off after 20 copies too. Some developers I've talked with have told me that Cupertino is telling them that schools can easily make in-app purchases. This conflict of information makes developers not realize we cannot buy their App even though we want it. Every developer I have reached out to has been more than willing to adjust their product to work in the education field. For those that don't, there is usually a different App that does the same thing so we move to that. The glaring exception is Garageband. I forgot they had the in-app purchases. Perhaps it is feedback we can push even more this week at the ADE Global Institute! :)

  2. Thanks John for the e-mail.
    It is an issue for different schools bulk purchasing Apps using Apple Configurator.. It is an issue for students in a 1:1 program that have parents apple ID's and the students as young as 6-8 being bombarded with In-App purchases at school and home. I believe it is an issue for Apps like Hopscotch that have targeted the age group with the "teaching kids to code" angle and creativity, but dangling new characters in front of them at extra cost. For me, in our current school structure, In-App purchases are a nightmare. The Garage Band In-App purchases was the start. As I mentioned in my post, offering edu version is great but needs to be introduced at the beginning of the App development, not as an after thought. As a parent I really struggle with EDU apps that entice and encourage young students to buy, buy, buy. Maybe old fashioned, but I don't think this is right. An advertising screen that pops up in the middle of my 7 year old daughters session on an App is wrong, on one App we found it difficult to keep using the App at all. On my desktop I would call this spam! I think we are headed down a very slippery slope John.