Facebook even refers to them as “whales”.
The Center for Investigative Reporting has revealed that Facebook deliberately targeted children who unwittingly racked up tremendous charges on their parents credit cards, some which amounted in thousands of dollars.
When parents disputed the charges, Facebook refused the refunds. What’s more Facebook failed to provide parents with a method to settle disputes. Facebook’s own employees were concerned with the practice, and sound the alarm in an internal memo:
“In nearly all cases the parents knew their child was playing Angry Birds, but didn’t think the child would be allowed to buy anything without their password or authorization first,” according to an internal Facebook memo. The memo noted that on other platforms, such as Apple’s iPhone, people were required to reauthorize additional purchases, such as by re-entering a password.
A Facebook employee noted that children were likely to be confused by the in-game purchases because it “doesn’t necessarily look like real money to a minor.”
Despite internal concerns, Facebook continued to profit from the confusion, and refused refunds. What exactly was the reason Facebook refused refunds? This conversation between two Facebook employees provides insight:
Gillian: Would you refund this whale ticket? User is disputing ALL charges…
Michael: What’s the users total lifetime spend?
Gillian: It’s $6,545 – but card was just added on Sept. 2. They are disputing all of it I believe. That user looks underage as well. Well, maybe not under 13.
Michael: Is the user writing in a parent, or is this user a 13ish year old
Gillian: It’s a 13ish yr old. says its 15. looks a bit younger. she* not its. Lol.
Michael: … I wouldn’t refund
Gillian: Oh that’s fine. cool. agreed. just double checking
A whale is a term used by the casino industry to describe profligate spenders.
Perhaps not surprisingly, parents were oblivious to the charges long after they happened because “Facebook often failed to send receipts for these purchases, and links on the company’s website to dispute charges frequently failed to work, according to court records”.
With Facebook seemingly keen to bamboozle children, how far should parents go to keep a watchful eye on their children?