The Cell phone is NOT the babysitter

Published on: April 21, 2015

WASPA – How to avoid unwanted cellphone costs

Sandton, 21 April 2015 – Heading up customer enquiries in the Value-Added-Services industry has its challenges.  Not least of all the influx of calls from subscribers whose cell phone statements have suddenly increased with the addition of services they hadn’t thought they had subscribed to.  Or had they?

Here’s a typical scenario that is impacting households across the country (even the world): Cindy has 101 things going on – buy flowers; fetch laundry; pick the girls up from hockey practice; ring her hubby to chat about the PTA this evening; check in with mum… But first there’s Andrew, nagging for her undivided attention while she makes a conference call to her colleagues. She hands over her smartphone and just like that, he’s off. The credit card statement arrives at the end of the month and her heart drops when she sees the balance owing: R3 000 charged to her App Store ID in the space of a couple of hours, or, a whopping R5 000 on her cellphone bill.   Where she managed to get important work done in peace, she paid the price in game downloads. There’s nothing novel about Cindy’s startling experience, though.

There’s a new credit facility in your handbag or your back pocket – and it has buttons. And where buttons are involved, kids will be only too happy to dive in on the online spending action. Call centre managers like Annelize Breedt, at Mira Networks, a VAS aggregator handling premium services and a WASPA member, are asking parents: “When last did you have a chat with your teen, tween or even toddler about what goes on when they’re hidden behind your or their own smart device, plugging away on Angry Birds or Candy Crush?”

Ilonka Badenhorst, Operations Manager at WASPA says “The convergence of Internet and mobile media has transformed purchasing possibilities. But lest it’s forgotten: a) kids are certainly not as naïve as anyone thinks they are and b) are accessing online shops via mobile devices as naturally as getting homework done or going to the movies with friends.”

In a time when most 5-year-olds could show users how to navigate smartphones and their library of apps and online services, there’s limited control over what they can and cannot access through these internet-enabled gadgets, judging by the number of queries where users admit that the new subscription service is running on their child’s mobile. Gone are the days of password-protected accounts that only parents could control. Tots are now harnessing their own spending power at the touch of a button every time they purchase another mind-mushing game to babysit them while their parents are occupied with work commitments and social lives.

Because the engineering behind mobile app stores are geared towards getting the contract holder (in this case, mommy or daddy) to furnish their credit card details once, and then save their password, Voila, once is enough and all it takes to turn tiny Tim into a shopaholic. All kids have to do is tap, tap and away they go with all measure of charges linked directly to the enlisted credit card who is an unwitting accomplice.  It’s even simpler if the subscribed-to service has a WASP billing mechanism as costs are charged direct to the cellphone account or airtime balance.

Badenhorst also adds “Because smartphones are becoming more affordable, a child’s first mobile phone is likely to be a smart device.  Alternatively, they are getting Mum and Dad’s hand-me-downs.  Either way, these phones bring with their enhanced capabilities, a plethora of opportunities for their mobile use to go very, very wrong.

Even with double-opt-in pages for subscription premium services, it only takes a couple of taps (even from a child barely old enough to read), to agree to subscriptions they don’t fully understand, and certainly cannot afford.”

Badenhorst continues, “While it seems common-sense to an adult, it’s important that we actively teach our children the primary purpose of their new phone, which is to contact, or be contactable by their parents, caregivers and then friends and that anything else will probably involve an additional cost. The cell phone, which has the potential to replace the television as a babysitting alternative, comes with even more risks.  We live in an age of ‘all access,’ which makes it even more paramount for parents to make their little ones aware of the precautions they must take to protect their identity and spending habits while Internet browsing.”

Ultimately, it is a parent’s responsibility to ensure their child knows the rules.  A child cannot easily walk into a bank and open a credit card account, so why do we so easily entrust an open-ended credit facility at their fingertips?