A partial workaround to prevent accidental Google Play purchases

I was playing around with a freemium game today in awe of the brilliant in-app marketing designed to get players to part with non-trivial amounts of money for worthless virtual goods. Then it hit me... I was one accidental tap away from being a purchaser of said virtual goods. A little research revealed that this has been a problem for some Android users and there doesn't appear to be a great solution yet.

By default, Google Play is pretty wide open regarding purchasing content: if you click the buy button, it's yours. This hasn't been an issue for me yet as I've yet to make an accidental purchase and even if I did, there's the 15-minute window for a refund, right? Not so for in-app purchases... they are often (always?) non-refundable. An issue bigger than you accidentally purchasing something is if you have kids and every now and then let them use your device to play the popular 'free' game of the moment. The in-app purchasing tactics are so slick that you may find out the hard way that your child just dinged your credit card or cell phone bill this month and they may not even realize what they did.

Unfortunately, Google Play does not appear to currently provide a way to either disable or require your account password before making non-refundable purchases. There is an option to require a PIN for purchases but it is per device rather than a global account setting, so if you have multiple devices (say a phone and a tablet), it needs to be set on each device you want to protect. To enable this feature, go to the Google Play app and go to the Settings screen (for newer devices without hardware buttons this will be located on the overflow menu, for devices with hardware buttons pressing the menu key will get you to the same menu), and then select 'Set or change PIN' and follow the prompts. Once set up, make sure the 'Use PIN for purchases' option is checked.

The title of this post indicated that it was a partial workaround and here's why: if you refer to Google's documention on PIN codes you'll notice that it's trivial to defeat. So if you were thinking about loaning your device to someone that has, um, impulse control issues... you might want to reconsider.

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