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|Monday, July 14, 2014|
BY VIVIAN MCINERNY | OB BLOGGER
Some people think Amazon’s winking eye logo is starting to look like a hoodwink.
On Thursday the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit that could force the amazonian company to refund customers who may have been duped by somewhat sketchy practices. At issue is whether the company billed for in-app charges without the consent of the account holder. How is that even possible? Easy as stealing candy from a baby. Or maybe more accurately, easy as asking a baby if he’d like some candy, and then charging Mom and Pop for the sweet stuff.
Amazon apparently offers several game apps for children. The kids can play for a while for free before being asked if they’d like to purchase additional tokens, treasures or whatnots to continue. Kid presses yes, parents get charged. One parent complained that her young child wasn’t able to read yet, let alone agree to a credit card charge.
It’s easy to wag fingers at the parents for not knowing what their kids are doing on those ubiquitous smart phones and tablets. But did I sit and watch every episode of Sesame Street with my kids? For all I know, while I was making a cup of tea in the kitchen Bert and Ernie taught the tots how to hot wire a car for a joy ride. It may have been parental guilt or embarrassment that allowed the game to keep going as long as it did. When parents complained about bills, some as high as $300, Amazon often forgave the debt and eventually responded to the problem by changing the apps so that when junior hit $20 in charges, Mom and Pop were notified. That sounds like a responsible company response, right?
The thing is, parents are less likely to complain about an unauthorized $19.99 charge. Most probably just suck it up and pay it before deleting the games or making sure their kids fully understand the difference between free virtual tokens and virtual tokens that look, sound and function just like free ones but cost actual money. And while they are at it, they might explain the savings and loan scandal to the tykes.
Apple settled a similar complaint with the FTC earlier this year.
If the FTC gets its way, in the future any and all in-app purchase will require approval from the actual account holder, and not just any pudgy little finger that manages to press a button.
Some of Amazon’s very own employees made similar suggestions to the powers that be, according to the FTC suit. The people working in call centers who had to deal directly with angry customers, I suspect, came up with the solution pretty quickly: If you want to charge customers, it’s probably a good idea to let them know.
No matter who wins the FTC versus Amazon battle, there’s a lesson to be learned. It’s dangerous to get smug at the top. High ranking officers would be wise to pay attention to what those in the trenches are saying. The Brass, the Suits or, perhaps in the case of Amazon, The Cleaner Sweatshirts may understand complex strategic planning, dividend yields and amortization of intangibles but they shouldn’t dismiss the knowledge of their foot soldiers. Put another way, since I’m mixing metaphors like milkshakes, remember that every rung on the corporate ladder contributes to its strength.
If in the future Amazon is required to notify customers of all in-app charges, it is sort of good news/bad news for the rest of us. The good: No surprise bill. The bad? Imagine the melt-downs in restaurants and airplanes when little Noah or Sophia is told no.
Mama and Papa may decide that the magic acorn needed to save the hungry chipmunk or whatever, is well worth another dollar.
Vivian McInerny blogs on popular culture for Oregon Business.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
In our cover story this month, Wendy Collie, CEO of New Seasons Market, and Kim Malek, owner of Salt & Straw, discuss their rapidly growing businesses and Portland’s red hot food scene. The conversation provides an interesting lens through which to explore trends in the grocery store and restaurant sectors.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
More than 5,500 employees from 180 organizations throughout the state participated in the 100 Best Nonprofits to Work for in Oregon project.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
OB Research Editor Kim Moore shares some pointers about the 100 Best Companies to Work For survey.
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
A Design Week panel discussion raises questions about how innovative we really are.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
BY JON BELL
Startup culture is all the rage. Is there a downside?
Friday, September 19, 2014
BY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER
How can you tell if you, a peer, a subordinate or a job candidate has the emotional intelligence needed to do well?
Sunday, October 12, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER
Cylvia Hayes, tabloid vs. watchdog journalism and the looming threat of a Cascadia earthquake.
|The 100 Best Nonprofits to Work for in Oregon 2014|
|A Recipe for Success|
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Get ready for two days of special events produced with the EPA, Portland Timbers and ISOS before and after the GoGreen Conference on October 16.
Finding a health insurance plan that makes both financial sense for the bottom line and provides choice for plan participants is a huge challenge for employers.
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Among Oregon universities, Oregon Tech is special in the way it incorporates applied research into the curricula of every department.
More than 400 "Change Makers" will gather to invest in a socially sustainable community.