Over the past few days, a story's been circulating through the press about single mom, Dawn Matthews, whose 11 year old son, Brendan, has managed to rack up a whopping £1,082.52 through his spending on Xbox Live.
With the mother blaming Microsoft, and the bank also blaming Microsoft, the mother is now several thousand pounds out of pocket thanks to her son's rigorous spending habits. But in order to truly understand this story, we need to first take a look at what's allegedly transpired.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, where the article first surfaced, Ms. Matthews says "When I put my card details in 18 months ago I thought it was just for his membership to play online with his friends". What his mother apparently didn't realise was that the Xbox 360 had stored the credit card details in her son's account, which then allowed him to purchase other items without having to put her credit card details in again.
It's certainly a scary story, but, after having chewed over the details, we're not convinced that big, bad Microsoft are the only party to blame. Were you to read the article, you'd be led to believe that the poor son had absolutely no idea how much money he was clocking up on his mother's credit card, and that he didn't know what he was doing. It's an unfortunate story, but Microsoft aren't the only ones at fault.
Firstly, the mother purchased a subscription to Xbox Live, Microsoft's online games network, in order to allow her son to play games with his friends. This is a fairly awkward process in itself, but when you add the credit card, it does give you information about how to remove it at a later date.
The main hole in the story, however, is the allegation that the son had no idea what he was doing. In order to make purchases over Xbox Live, you mostly have to use Microsoft points. Arcade games, films, add-ons for games, avatar items, themes and gamer pictures are all purchased using Microsoft points - not your credit card. Although you can use your credit card to purchase Microsoft points from the dashboard, few things can be bought using simply credit card details alone - and those that can display their price in pounds. What most likely happened here, is that her son thought he'd discovered a glitch in the system, and was able to purchase these items without being charged. It's incredibly unlikely that he had no idea what he was doing - he would have at least known the value of the items he's purchasing, and then selected that he wanted to use the credit card details to pay. Quite whose details he thought they were, we don't know, but it doesn't beggar belief as much as the next statement.
"When he is in gaming mode he can't be thinking about the money. You can't put all that responsibility on a young boy." Well, yes, you can - it's perfectly reasonable to expect your son to be able to realise the value of money, even when in some sort of "gaming mode", whatever patronising trance that may conjure images of. And if he does go into a "gaming mode", and loses track of all semblance of real life, including how much money's worth, then it's a psychiatrist you should really be seeking, not compensation from Microsoft. When you add in the fact that the purchases were made over a period of six months, yet the mother apparently didn't notice the numerous, large "XBOX Live Purchases" on her statement, you really begin to question the authenticity of the story.
The silliness continues when the mother says "It is ridiculous to allow someone of his age to make payments without any checks being done." Well, the fact of the matter is, Microsoft don't. When you're signing up for Xbox Live, you have to put in your age. If you put your age down as being under 18, you'll be signed up for a child's account, which has all the parental restrictions you could hope for - and doesn't let children make purchases using a credit card, or in fact, any purchases at all. In order to make the purchases, her son either can't have a child account, and may well have lied about his age when signing up, or, the mother has enabled purchases for her son's account - which, if he has problems "thinking about the money" when he's in his "gaming mode", doesn't seem like a very likely option.
However, the mother does have a very good point about how hard it is to remove a credit card from your account once its been added. Although it shouldn't have been an issue in the first place, Microsoft do need to improve their systems somewhat, by making it easier to remove cards from the system, and improving the text that goes alongside adding a card to your account, making it obvious that the card will be stored, and giving clear instructions on how to remove it.
But if anything, the moral of this story is that parents can't afford to err away from technology. Yes, it can be intimidating at times, but help is out there - and our site's one of the best resources for parents on the internet. We don't use technobabble in our articles, and everything's written with the family in mind. Why not explore the rest of the site, and find out for yourself?