May 16, 2021

Facebook allowed children to spend thousands of dollars on online games with their parents' cards | Technology

Facebook allowed children to spend thousands of dollars on online games with their parents' cards | Technology

It was the years of the apogee in Facebook of games like Angry Birds, PetVille or Ninja Saga, where they could buy potions or weapons to win easier. The children were a fixed public and they spent money with the card of their unconscious parents. From Facebook not only knew of this practice, but they avoided changing methods to avoid it.

The parents put their credit card once to buy something in the game. Afterwards, Facebook no longer warned and innocuous buttons that gave virtual powers actually charged the clueless parents. An internal Facebook survey found that many parents did not know that the company kept the card information or that the children could use it again without any password or verification, according to publish Reveal, half of the Center for Investigative Journalism of the USA.

Also called "whales" to these children, a term used in casinos for wasteful customers

The company internally called this income "friendly fraud", in reference to a minor will use money in the game without the consent of their parents. Also called "whales" to those children, a term used in casinos for wasteful customers.

Facebook knew the practice with certainty: he received requests for reimbursement of money through the cards 9% of the time. In the sector, receiving 1% of claims is already cause for alarm. Facebook analyzed why so many people asked for the money back. 7% was due to buyer's regret. The other 93% was a minor who used the card of their parents or grandparents. For the Angry Birds game, for example, the average age of the children was 5 years. In almost all cases, Facebook supports, parents did not believe that a child could repeatedly use the card without a brake.

Internal documents

The revelation comes from the publication of 135 pages – with restrictions – of the summary of a 2016 trial in the United States of the families of several children against Facebook. The Center for Investigative Journalism requested the publication of this documentation in the public interest. They are basically internal Facebook documents from 2010 to 2014.

According to a Facebook statement, in 2016 he abandoned this practice: "We periodically examine our practices and in 2016 we agreed to update our terms and provide specific resources for refund requests related to purchases made by minors on Facebook."

A 'whale' of 13 years

In 2013, one year after the demand of a family, a minor wrote to Facebook asking for a refund of 6,500 dollars (5,700 euros at the current exchange rate). In the documents the chat of two employees goes out, discussing what to do. "Would you reimburse this whale bill? The user discusses ALL charges, "says one. "It seems minor, well, maybe no less than 13," he adds. The minimum age to have a Facebook account is 13 years. The other asks her if she writes the parents or "one of about 13 years old": "She is one of about 13. She says she is 15, but she looks a little younger".

"I would not reimburse it," he concludes. "Oh, it's fine. Cool In agreement. I just wanted to confirm, "he replies. It was not clearly the first time.

Gravity is not just how he harassed minors – "it does not even look like money for a child," one employee wrote, "but persistence. A group of Facebook employees found a simple solution to avoid claims: whenever there was suspicion that a child was spending excessively, Facebook would ask six digits of the card number to the user. It was a simple way to confirm that the game was going to make you pay again.

The remedy was rejected because it was going to reduce the income. "If we created risk models to reduce this, it would block a good income entry," writes a Facebook employee.

Facebook had also thought of ways to avoid reimbursing the money. Those who complained, always according to the documents, proposed to offer them new advantages in the game: swords, extra lives or "virtual goods that have no cost". For those who claimed the company's cards, Facebook designed a program that automatically challenged the requests of those affected. In the documentation it is not clear if this system and its hypothetical results were implemented.

To get an idea of ​​the percentage that Facebook entered with these practices, between 2008 and 2014 the "reasonable estimate of Facebook" of purchases for games on Facebook acquired by users under 18 in the United States total more than 30 million dollars. The reimbursements or returns that Facebook had to make in those years exceed 3 million.

In 2013 the Facebook motto was "move fast and break things". He was referring, in principle, to possible software errors. But with these new revelations it is increasingly clear that the company's rapid growth had little interest in details such as the use of money by minors or the privacy of its users. "When companies grow," Zuckerberg wrote in a letter to investors in 2012, "they slow down too much because they fear more making mistakes than losing opportunities because of their slowness." Now we know that Facebook preferred to run to win at whatever price. Maybe they hit and they won. Or the race is not over yet.


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