Facebook Let Children Spend $1000s on Online Games in 'Friendly Fraud'

Dwayne Harmon
January 28, 2019

The report suggests that Facebook quelled internal attempts to end the practice.

It's a troubling affair, but one that game developers should pay close attention to as the conversation about ethical monetization, especially when children are involved, isn't likely to wind down at any point in the future.

The more games children played, the more Facebook's revenue grew.

The internal Facebook memos and other records were unsealed late Thursday.

Glynnis Bohannan let her 12-year-old son use her credit card to play the game Ninja Saga on Facebook, but the initial fee of $19.95 mushroomed into charges totaling almost $1,000. For years, it allowed for what it called "friendly fraud" because it feared implementing protections would harm revenue, according to the documents.

A full overview of the particularly troubling bits of what was released can be found over on Reveal's website, including links to the released documents and snippets of conversations between Facebook and the developers of the games in question.

After a series of scandals, Facebook is under fire again over newly released documents that show an apparent pattern of exploiting minors for their parents' money.

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It's a business model that's been known for years-in 2015, actor Jack Black went on The Tonight Show and said his son had spent $3,000 on such purchases. "It doesn't necessarily look like "real" money to a minor", Stewart wrote. At one point, Rovio, the creator of the massive hit Angry Birds, emailed Facebook asking about the refund rates of "5-10 percent" for money spent on the game, which seemed "quite high".

A colleague replied: "I wouldn't refund".

"We were contacted by the Center for Investigative Reporting past year, and we voluntarily unsealed documents related to a 2012 case about our refund policies for in-app purchases that parents believe were made in error by their minor children".

Facebook considered changing its system so that users under 17 (and over 90) who tried to make transactions worth over $75 would have to enter the first six digits of the payment card on file, in order to prove they were in possession of it, or could at least remember it.

The use of such language coupled with the fact that in at least one exchange a Facebook employee referred to a user seeking a refund as a "whale" (casino slang for a high-wager gambler) led some media to accuse the tech giant of turning a blind eye to the problem or even encouraging minors to squander vast sums of money online.

In a statement to Reveal, the social network said that "Facebook works with parents and experts to offer tools for families navigating Facebook and the web", and that "we routinely examine our own practices".

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