Amazon Offers Refunds for Children's Unauthorized In-App Purchases

In accordance with a court ruling, Amazon has begun offering refunds for certain unauthorized, in-app purchases made by children.

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Amazon is offering customers refunds for unauthorized charges their children have incurred playing games from the company’s Appstore.

The move comes nearly three years after the Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon in federal court over in-game charges that shocked unsuspecting parents.

“Amazon’s in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents’ accounts without permission,” the FTC’s then-Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said when the lawsuit was filed.

A judge concurred and the FTC says the company has agreed to refund up to $70 million in unintended charges.

Amazon spokesman Jonathan Richardson said in a statement to NPR: “We have contacted all eligible customers who have not already received a refund for unauthorized charges to help ensure their refunds are confirmed quickly.”

If you believe your child made an in-app purchase without your permission between November 2011 and May 2016, you may be eligible for a refund. The FTC says you can visit this Amazon webpage or log into your Amazon account and look in the Message Center under “Important Messages.” Or you can call Amazon at 866-216-1072. Refund requests are due by May 28, 2018.

Julie Comeaux is one of many parents who had no idea her daughter was continually spending money inside a game on her new Amazon Kindle. Comeaux described on Morning Edition last month how she typed in her password once to approve a $5 in-app purchase—then left the Kindle with her daughter.

“When we checked the account and we saw hundreds of charges from Amazon, it totaled near $10,000,” Comeaux said.

“She cried. I had to calm her down,” Comeaux recalled. “She was very upset, didn’t know she was spending real money.”

According to the FTC complaint, games often blur the lines between what kids can buy with virtual currency and what they’re buying with actual money. It cited the app Ice Age Village, in which players can use virtual coins and acorns to buy items — and can also pay real money to buy more of the virtual currencies, on a screen that looks very similar.

But Amazon’s Richardson said Wednesday, “Since the launch of the Appstore in 2011, Amazon has helped parents prevent purchases made without their permission by offering access to parental controls, clear notice of in-app purchasing, real-time notification for every in-app purchase and refund assistance for unauthorized purchases.”

The FTC asked the court to require that Amazon refund unauthorized charges and to prevent it from billing account holders for future in-app charges without their consent.

A year ago, federal district court Judge John Coughenour agreed to the refunds. He wrote: “The Court determines that the scope of Amazon’s unfair billing practices pertains to all in-app charges made by account users without express, informed authorization.” But he denied the FTC’s request for the future billing ban.

Richardson noted, “The Court here affirmed our commitment to customers when it ruled no changes to current Appstore practices were required. To continue ensuring a great customer experience, we are happy to provide our customers what we have always provided: refunds for purchases they did not approve.”

The FTC appealed the judge’s decision in hopes of securing a future ban, and Amazon appealed the refund order. Last month, both sides agreed to drop their appeals so the refund process could begin.

According to the FTC, when Amazon introduced in-app charges in its Appstore in November 2011, it didn’t require any password to spend real money inside an app. In March 2012, the FTC said, the company updated its system to require the account owner to enter a password for single purchases over $20. That meant children could still make an unlimited number of purchases under $20 each.

Then in early 2013, Amazon began requiring a password for some charges, the FTC said. But even when a parent authorized a single charge, that permission sometimes lasted for up to an hour, allowing children to make more purchases without new authorization.

“Not until June 2014, roughly two and a half years after the problem first surfaced,” did Amazon begin to require account holders’ consent for in-app charges on its newer mobile devices,” the FTC explained in a statement.

The judge’s ruling noted that, “By December 2011, (Amazon Appstore Director) Aaron Rubenson referred to the amount of customer complaints as ‘near house on fire.’… Rubenson also referred to ‘accidental purchasing by kids’ as one of two issues the company needed to solve.”

Amazon was the holdout in the FTC’s crackdown on unwitting in-app purchases. It made similar claims against Google and Apple and those companies both settled. Google agreed to refund $19 million and Apple agreed to refund $32 million to eligible customers.

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Kenyans Cheer Opening Of Mombasa-Nairobi Railway

A standard gauge rail locomotive carrying Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta pulls into the railway station in the city of Voi on Wednesday, during an inaugural ride on the railway from Mombasa to Nairobi.

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Just after the sun rose on Wednesday, people began streaming into the Mombasa terminal station. There was a red carpet, a helicopter and Kenyans dressed in their very best attire, with shimmering fabrics and dazzling hats.

A little more than a hundred years after the British built a railway through their East African colony, Kenyans celebrated building one of their own.

Consolata Muvea took a bus more than 10 hours to come to Mombasa for the first time and she was entranced by the train waiting at the station.

“I understand there is tea. There is a toilet. I want to see even the type of toilet is there,” she said laughing. “Because if I hear that there is a toilet there, I just imagine. How? I am always traveling by bus and there is no toilet. How can there be a toilet here? So, I am happy.”

Peter Asiokomweka, 69, was marveling at the machine in front of him. It’s a diesel locomotive because Kenya didn’t have the infrastructure to pull off an electric train. Still, moving at around 65 mph, it is going halve the time it takes to get from the port city of Mombasa to the capital city of Nairobi.

“This one is going to make our country richer than it has been,” Asiokomweka said. He looked around at the terminal, a modern building with swooping lines and a tower that reaches high into that vast African sky. He was awed. He says the building of this train is already overwriting the colonial legacy left by the British.

Kenyans wait to board a train in the port city of Mombasa on Wednesday. The country’s new Mombasa-Nairobi rail line was financed by China and built by a Chinese company.

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Khalil Senosi/AP

The rail line was financed with more than $3 billion borrowed from the Chinese government. A Chinese company built it, and a Chinese company will operate it for the first five years. For China, this project is part of a grand plan to revive the old Silk Road. In Africa, China imagines a vast network of rails, from Kenya, through Uganda and Burundi and up to South Sudan that can help it move its goods in and out of the continent with expediency.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said it was a “historic moment” because the rail line will “transform the economy of this country.” The government hopes cargo from the port of Mombasa will be able to flow inland faster, more efficiently and cheaper than it does moving along a two-lane highway.

But critics have denounced the project for saddling the Kenyan people with debt. Back in 2013, the World Bank said it would not help finance the project and it also released a damning report questioning the project’s financial logic.

Kenya was already running a railway left over from colonial times. According to a World Bank analysis, refurbishing that rail would have resulted in the same performance as the new line and cost less than half of what it took to build the new railway.

At the inaugural ride, however, finances were not discussed. To singing and dancing, President Kenyatta boarded the train and it began to snake its way across swaths of African bush.

It’s a route that the British termed the Lunatic Express, in part because lions had a habit of eating the men working on the railway. But it’s spectacularly beautiful country. It’s rugged plains dotted with hulking hills, and every once in a while you’re likely to spot an elephant or a baobab tree jutting improbably from the ground like a prehistoric giant.

And as the train cut its way from one town to another, over the course of 300 miles, one thing became certain: This was a proud moment for Kenyans. As the train lurched forward, little kids ran toward it waving and smiling, and women and men left their fieldwork and sought higher ground to get a look at this new, marvelous machine.

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Ohio Sues 5 Major Drug Companies For 'Fueling Opioid Epidemic'

A bottle of OxyContin produced by Purdue Pharma, one of the defendants in the lawsuit filed by Ohio attorney general on Wednesday.

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Toby Talbot/AP

The state of Ohio has sued five major drug manufacturers for its role in the opioid epidemic. In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, state Attorney General Mike DeWine alleges these five companies “unleash a healthcare crisis that has had far-reaching financial, social, and deadly consequences in the State of Ohio.”

Named in the suit are the following companies:

  • Purdue Pharma
  • Endo Health Solutions
  • Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary Cephalon
  • Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals
  • Allergan

The lawsuit — only the second such suit filed by a state, after Mississippi earlier this year — accuses the companies of engaging in a sustained marketing campaign to downplay the addiction risks of the prescription opioid drugs they sell, and to exaggerate the benefits of their use for health problems such as chronic pain.

“We believe that the evidence will show that these pharmaceutical companies purposely misled doctors about the dangers connected with pain meds that they produced, and that they did so for the purpose of increasing sales,” DeWine tells NPR’s All Things Considered. “And boy, did they increase sales.”

By the late 1990s, DeWine’s suit says, each of the five companies had embarked on a persuasion scheme targeting doctors, whom the state positions as victims of systematic misinformation:

“Defendants persuaded doctors and patients that what they had long known — that opioids are addictive drugs, unsafe in most circumstances for long-term use — was untrue, and quite the opposite, that the compassionate treatment of pain required opioids.”

Asked by NPR’s Robert Siegel whether doctors had a role of their own in overprescribing potentially dangerous medication, DeWine says more fault rests with a culture created by these companies.

“This was not something that the pharmaceutical companies just woke up some day and just started to do a little bit of it,” he says.

“I mean, there was a concerted effort for an extended number of years to really pound this into the heads of doctors. And when you’re told something time and time and time again and there’s a lot of advertising that is being spent, yeah, it takes a while to turn that around.”

In a statement provided to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a spokeswoman for Jansen, one of the defendants, called the lawsuit “legally and factually unfounded”:

“Janssen has acted appropriately, responsibly and in the best interests of patients regarding our opioid pain medications, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about the known risks of the medications on every product label.”

Purdue Pharma, another defendant, told the Plain Dealer it has been involved in seeking to combat widespread opioid addiction:

“OxyContin accounts for less than 2 percent of the opioid analgesic prescription market nationally, but we are an industry leader in the development of abuse-deterrent technology, advocating for the use of prescription drug monitoring programs and supporting access to Naloxone — all important components for combating the opioid crisis.”

And that crisis shows few signs of ebbing soon.

As All Things Considered notes, the state of Ohio estimates some 200,000 people within its borders are addicted to opioids — a number roughly the same as Akron’s entire population. And Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports for our Newscast unit that Ohio led the nation in opioid overdose deaths in 2014 and 2015.

In his release Wednesday, DeWine says he filed the suit in Ross County for a reason: “Southern Ohio was likely the hardest hit area in the nation by the opioid epidemic.”

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Bahrain Court Orders Dissolution Of Country's Last Major Opposition Group

Waad was one of the opposition groups that participated in a Sept. 2013 demonstration. Before a court ordered it to dissolve today, it was the only major opposition group still operating in the country.

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Hasan Jamali/AP

A court in Bahrain has ordered the country’s last major opposition group to dissolve, amid a wider crackdown on freedom of expression.

Wednesday’s ruling from the High Civil Court targeted the secular National Democratic Action Society, also known as Waad, and ordered the liquidation of its assets, according to the state media. The ruling is subject to appeal, Reuters reported.

Human rights groups are decrying the court order, with Amnesty International describing it as part of a “blatant campaign to end all criticism of the government.”

The island nation’s ruling family is Sunni, and its population is majority Shiite. Like many other countries in the region, it saw major pro-democracy protests in 2011. The government’s allies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE sent in troops and tanks, and security forces have detained thousands in the crackdown on dissent.

Part of the government’s rationale for dissolving Waad stems from a statement the group made in February to mark the sixth anniversary of the start of the 2011 protests. It described “ongoing violations of human rights” and said the “constitutional political crisis continues.”

Bahrain’s Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs filed a lawsuit weeks later, saying this “attitude” violated a law that called for “respect for the rule of law.” It also took issue with the group’s characterization of three men convicted of killing three police officers and then executed, as “martyrs.”

According to Amnesty International, the group has “repeatedly stated their opposition to violence and commitment to peaceful means and they have denied the charges.”

There are still two smaller opposition groups operating in the country, according to The Associated Press, but Waad “was seen as the last major opposition group still functioning in Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.” Both Sunni and Shiite activists are part of the group.

Last year, according to Reuters, the government’s crackdown on dissent escalated “when authorities banned the main Shi’ite Muslim opposition group, al-Wefaq, and revoked the citizenship of Ayatollah Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shi’ites, accusing him of fomenting sectarian divisions.”

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy for the U.K.-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, described Wednesday’s court order as a “declaration of a de facto ban on all opposition.”

President Trump met with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa earlier this month, as Reuters reported, where he stressed the countries’ “wonderful relationship” and said there “won’t be strain” between them under his administration.

Last week, a major raid on protesters became “deadliest day since protests began in 2011,” according to the Bahrain Institute. Five people were killed, according to news reports, and the Ministry of Interior said it arrested 286 people.

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Meet A Home Contractor Who Helps Older People Age In Place

Leon Watts (left) with Lee and Suzanne Chase.

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Ina Jaffe/NPR

Leon Watts III stands out among his fellow gerontology students at the University of Southern California’s Davis School of Gerontology. They all look to be under 25. Watts is 66. What led up to his return to school was decades spent rehabbing homes in Los Angeles. Over that time, his clients have aged and he’s seen their needs change. Watts decided he’d be able to do a lot more for them with a master’s degree in gerontology.

Nearly 90 percent of Americans 65 and older say they want to stay in their current homes and communities as they age, according to the AARP. But homes don’t keep up with their aging occupants. They don’t keep them safe from hard to climb stairs and slippery bathtubs.

Leon Watts can take care of things like that. And since he’s been working with older adults for a long time, he’s wasn’t shy about giving his classmates some advice on what it takes.

“If you’re going to be working with seniors,” he told them, “you have to be patient enough to listen to their stories and even ask questions about their life.”

His professor, George Shannon, has welcomed these contributions. It’s been great having Watts in class, said Shannon, “because his perspective is so broad.”

Just days before his graduation, Watts was dressed in work shoes and a T-shirt that said Guardian Home Services, the name of his business. He was installing an emergency generator outside the home of Lee and Suzanne Chase. They’re now both in their late 80s. Their power went out for 24 hours recently. At their age, it’s not safe for them to be left in the dark.

The Chases have been Watts’ clients for more than 30 years. He can walk around their home and point to the many improvements he’s made over the decades, like the widening of a driveway and the fencing on the upstairs deck. But now he has some more urgent work to do because recently, Lee had a serious fall. After weeks in the hospital, Chase was allowed to come home only if he got round–the-clock care.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to last,” Chase said. “It’s a little expensive and I don’t have any income anymore.”

He mock-complained that “between all this medical care and Leon, there’s not much left.” Then he looks at Watts: “I told you I’d get you,” he said, as both men laughed.

The Chase’s home is a traditional two-story with bedrooms upstairs. For now, Lee sleeps in a hospital bed in the dining room. So next on Watts’ agenda is a chairlift for the back stairs. But Lee isn’t so sure.

“I can still go up the front stairs,” he said, “and that’s good exercise for me.”

Well, that chair lift is going in anyway, Suzanne said.

It’s not just her husband’s fall. It’s also the bout of pneumonia she had over the winter. “I felt reeeaally old,” she said. “It’s a whole new ballgame.”

She and her husband used to think of aging as some vague future they needed to plan for. But now that future has caught up with them. And they’d been counting on remaining in their home “until we were carried out feet first,” Suzanne said.

Watts said that the Chase’s situation illustrates the points he wants to get across to all of his clients: do the work on your house before it’s an emergency; make a plan for home care before you need it; designate someone to make medical decisions for you, if you can’t make them for yourself.

This is where his gerontology degree fits in. One of the reasons he went back to school, he said, was to make more contacts with other people interested in gerontology. “My dream idea is to develop a firm that would have all these different professional people,” what he calls a “holistic” management service for older adults. In his vision, everyone in his firm, whether an accountant or an electrician, would also have a background in gerontology. “The home modifications and maintenance is just part of it,” Watts said.

As Watts has aged along with his clients, he’s gained a deeper appreciation of how much home means when you’re older. “When you can’t ski anymore, you don’t golf anymore, your friends aren’t around anymore, and your kids have grown up and they’ve gone, the only familiar thing in a person’s life is their home.”

Watts said that it doesn’t matter whether that home is a big old family house like the Chase’s or a one-bedroom apartment. That territory is still all yours.

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Episode 599: The Invisible Wall

Souvenir sellers in Peru. Hernando de Soto found that many street vendors wanted to be in a more formal marketplace--but the bureaucratic barriers to entry were nearly insurmountable.

Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images

Note: This episode originally ran in 2015.

Hernando de Soto’s parents always talked about Peru as he was growing up. His family had moved to Switzerland after a coup. They were kicked out of the country, and for many years de Soto thought of Peru as this magical place.

When he was 38, de Soto moved back to Peru. He knew the country was poor, but he didn’t really understand the extent of the poverty until he got there.

He wanted to figure out what was trapping people in poverty. “There’s gotta be an invisible wall someplace,” he thought. “Let’s find the wall.”

Today on the show, how de Soto found the invisible wall that was trapping people in poverty, how it transformed poor countries around the world—and how his discovery almost got him killed.

Music: “Now Son,” “Swaggerville,” and “Turquoise Sun.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts or PocketCast.

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Going There: Civics 101 – What Does It Mean To Be A Good Citizen?

NPR’s Michel Martin talks with the audience at the live performance of “Going There” at Colorado State University May 24, 2016.

Richard Haro /Richard Haro

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Richard Haro /Richard Haro

In many countries, citizenship means you are required to do something. In America, a fundamental right for many is the freedom from government.

But the 2016 election saw voter turnout at a 20-year low. Some polls show a public either turned off by politics and government, or unwilling to engage with people with different views. Other polls show many Americans are uninformed when it comes to basic facts about their country.

Some are reflecting on whether the United States is at a crisis point with regard to civic engagement. In an era of seemingly toxic partisanship and withdrawal from the public sphere, is freedom from government enough to ensure a healthy democracy?

NPR’s Going There with Michel Martin and WVIA present a provocative discussion around the question of what is means to be a good citizen in 2017. Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #NPRGoodNeighbor.

Social Media Guests

Sarah Hofius Hall, @HofiusHallTT, education reporter for The Times-Tribune (@timestribune)

Colbert King, @king_i, journalist, member of The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) editorial board

Heather McGhee, @hmcghee, president of Demos (@Demos_Org)

Gia Wilson, @socialcap, outreach coordinator at Social Capital, Inc.

Featured Guests

Amilcar Arroyo, president and editor of El Mensajero newspaper, Hazleton, PA

Eric Liu, @ericpliu, founder and CEO of Citizen University (@CitizenUniv)

Andrea Mulrine, former president, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania

Linda Cliatt-Wayman, @LCliattWayman, former principal of Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia

Salena Zito, @SalenaZito, CNN contributor and New York Post columnist

With a special video message from former vice president Joe Biden

Featured Performers

Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, @BTE

Bethel AME Worship Team and Youth Choir

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NASA Plans To Launch A Probe Next Year To 'Touch The Sun'

An artist’s rendering of the newly named Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the sun.

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
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Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

It’s a mission that’s been in the works for nearly 60 years. NASA says it will launch a spacecraft in 2018 to “touch the sun,” sending it closer to the star’s surface than ever before.

The spacecraft is small – its instruments would fit into a refrigerator — but it’s built to withstand temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, all the while maintaining room temperature inside the probe.

“Even though the sun is so close to us, there’s actually a lot about it we don’t understand,” says heat shield lead engineer Betsy Congdon from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Scientists are hoping the data gathered might solve some of the big mysteries about the sun.

First, what allows the sun to fling winds out at supersonic speeds? Understanding this will be important for protecting astronauts during space travel, Congdon says, and solar events can damage satellites and knock out power on Earth.

“Unless we can explain what is going on up close to the sun, we will not be able to accurately predict space weather effects that can cause havoc at Earth,” NASA says.

Second, why is the sun’s atmosphere actually hotter — 300 times hotter — than its surface? “That defies the laws of nature. It’s like water flowing uphill. It shouldn’t happen,” mission project scientist Nicola Fox of the Johns Hopkins lab said at a news conference.

The probe is expected to complete 24 orbits over the course of more than six years, looping closer to the sun and eventually hurtling toward it at a speed of 450,000 miles per hour. At that speed, you could travel from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in one second. Here’s a map of the route:

The probe is set to gradually move its orbit closer to the sun over the course of six years.

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It’s worth noting that the probe will not literally touch the sun’s surface — the closest it will get is about 3.9 million miles away.

But Congdon says that’s actually very close. “If you think about a football field and the sun’s sitting on one side and the Earth’s sitting on the other, we’re getting within the 5-yard line,” she says. It’s about seven times closer than any previous mission.

The circuitous route involves careening closer to the sun and then back out to Venus, which means wild oscillations in temperature. Congdon says protecting the probe’s scientific instruments from getting fried is “quite an engineering feat.”

It basically involves “putting up a big umbrella,” she says. The shield is an 8-foot wide disc made of layers of carbon, which would get burnt to a charcoal crisp if it weren’t for the fact that there’s no oxygen in space.

Today, NASA announced that it is naming the spacecraft after Eugene Parker, a retired physicist who predicted the existence of solar winds almost 60 years ago. He is about to turn 90, and this is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after a researcher during their lifetime.

Parker’s ideas fundamentally changed the study of the sun.

But at this point, Fox compared the state of the field with learning about weather by looking out the window.

“You can see the sun is shining, you can see the birds are singing. But until you actually go out, you have no idea quite how hot it is out there or how windy it is or what the conditions are like,” Fox said.

“I really think we’ve come as far as we can with looking at things and it’s now time to go up and pay it a visit.”

The European Space Agency also has plans to launch a probe toward the sun.

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