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Amazon sets up parental controls for teen shoppers

| Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, 4:57 p.m.
The Amazon logo is displayed at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square.
The Amazon logo is displayed at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square.

Amazon is taking aim at one of the unintended consequences of the internet age: purchases racked up by a youth with a credit card.

The online retailer Wednesday said it would allow teenagers to set up Amazon accounts linked to those of a parent, giving the adult veto power over specific purchases and the ability to set spending caps.

Michael Carr, parent of a teenager and a vice president in Amazon's e-commerce services group, related a story he'd heard secondhand of somebody winding up with a golf cart a child had ordered. “What we want to do is empower parents to have conversations around appropriate spending.” he said.

It's not just surprise big-budget purchases. Amazon ran afoul of regulators recently for its policies toward refunds pertaining to digital goods purchased by kids.

In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon, contending that the Seattle company made it too easy for kids to make small purchases without their parents' permission, particularly digital items bought in games downloaded from Amazon's Appstore.

A federal judge sided with the agency last year and, in April, Amazon and the FTC agreed to end the dispute in a deal that freed up more than $70 million in refunds for unauthorized purchases.

Carr said Amazon didn't have reliable data on how many underage shoppers were already making purchases of physical goods on Amazon's retail site, or how often they ran into trouble for buying things they shouldn't have.

Technically, Amazon requires shoppers to be 18 years old. But the company, which doesn't ask about age at registration, doesn't enforce that rule, Carr said.

Under the new program, shoppers age 13-17 can register on Amazon with their own login linked to a parent's account, then shop on their own using the company's smartphone app. For now, the function is limited to the app — people won't be able to use it from a computer's web browser — and to the United States.

When it comes time to pay, they select a parent-chosen payment method — not disclosed to the teen — and, before the order is final, parents receive a text or email notification asking them to approve the purchase.

Parents can skip the approval step by setting spending limits.

Teens can also tap into the benefits of their parent's membership in Amazon's Prime program, which offers faster shipping and on-demand video streaming, among other perks.

“This really empowers parents to be in the loop before these family crises happen,” Carr said.

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