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The Almighty Buck Apple

Apple Moves To Stop Kids Racking Up iTunes Bills 232

Posted by samzenpus
from the won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-bad-children? dept.
Xacid writes "Apple Inc. has changed how purchases inside iPhone and iPad games are authorized after customers complained that their kids were racking up hundreds of dollars worth of charges. The issue was that after a user entered his or her iTunes password on a device, the device didn't prompt for the password again for 15 minutes. Any purchases, whether in the iTunes store or inside kid-friendly games such as 'The Smurf's Village,' went through without a new password prompt. This meant that parents who handed over their iPhones or iPads to their kids were sometimes shocked by large purchases of 'Smurfberries' and other virtual bling."
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Apple Moves To Stop Kids Racking Up iTunes Bills

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  • Sounds like... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @04:50PM (#35508424)

    ... it's a parenting problem.

    • Not necessarily. In a lot of games the "premium" features are in there just like other in-game money only with an extra dialogue saying that you will be charged for it. Depending on the game, there might already be a dialogue asking if you if you really want to select the item.
    • by wjousts (1529427)
      Partially, yes. But it doesn't help when you have Apple offering the "convenience" of charging you for shit without bothering to ask for your account details again. There's nothing inherently wrong with letting you kid play around with your iWhatever for a few minutes, and I'd imagine it's far too easy to forget that they could click through and buy stuff without you knowing.
      • by tompaulco (629533)
        Well, what needs to happen is that Apple needs to be treated as what they are, a credit card service, and they need to be held to the same standards by the government. That means that they have to be on YOUR side against the scammers, not siding with the scammers and taking a huge cut to protect the scams.
        • by jo_ham (604554)

          So, your kids are "scammers" now?

          And it sounds like this is exactly what Apple are doing - ensuring that purchases are confirmed with a password, even if the "15 minute convenience grace" of entering your password is still in effect, sort of like how sudo escalates for a small amount of time, so you can execute a few commands before you need to authenticate again.

          (although I haven't sudo'ed [sudone?] for a while, so I might be misremembering, and for the sake of a slashdot comment I'm not invoking root just

    • How would a kid know that answering 'yes' to "do you want some smurfberries?" is going to cost money?

      The problem will most likely go away once the parent has figured out that the shiny toy they put in their kid's hands has hidden "spend money" buttons in it. Once bitten, etc.

      The real blame here is on the people who set up an automatic billing system which allows the parents to get bitten even once, ie. Apple. All purchases should require a password.

    • Re:Sounds like... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DRJlaw (946416) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @09:05PM (#35510970)

      Saying that it's a parenting problem does not absolve Apple of a practical need to deal with it.

      Yes, my child purchasing things without asking due to a poorly designed authentication mechanism (use case analysis, anyone) is proximately my problem. I must solve that problem.

      I can solve that problem in many ways:
          1. I can manually toggle in app purchasing, and hope that I never forget
          2. I can teach my child to never ever push a button when they see that funny $ without talking to a parent, and hope that they perfectly comply
          3. I can call Apple out on its bonehead use case analysis. The trite 'he who has the gold makes the rules' also applies to collections of customers. Make customers happy, make money. Make customers unhappy, make less money.
          4. etc.

      Most importantly, I can engage in defense in depth by pursuing solutions at the same time. Trolls bleat "sounds like a parenting problem," and parents demanding that a braindead authentication mechanism change get ridiculed because these self-aggrandizing paragons of foresight cannot conceive a world in which others would do anything other than 'blame Apple.' An attempt to get Apple to improve the product couldn't possibly be made by people who believe that it's ultimately their responsibility to deal with the problem. After all, everybody except for you and the rest of the Illuminati are "sheeple."

      House fire? Sounds like a homeowner problem to me. House fire caused by an Easy Bake oven? Yeah, that's a homeowner problem too. You should have been handcuffed to your kid at all times, or else taken the lightbulb out. After all, nobody making an Easy Bake over could foresee that a child would leave something in it for hours, and even if they could, we simply don't care about the manufacturer's ability to fix the risk for $2/unit. Don't complain about the fire risk (fix it yourself), don't call the fire department (put it our yourself), and for heaven's sake don't create a moral hazard by allowing people to take insurance out against fire (enablers, every one).

      Your ultra-libertarian utopia is nothing more than a warmed over Hobbesian distopia. I'll do you one better: Adam Smith's utopia. If the value of the effort required for Apple to mitigate this in-game purchase problem is substantially less than the value of all of parents' collective efforts to control their kiddies' in-game purchases, then Apple will (as it has) volunteer some 'responsibility'. Why? Because they can generate greater value, gain sales, and make money doing it. They know that because parents have complained and they can see the value proposition. Make the product that your customers want, solve the problems that your customers have, and keep your customer happy. And that last part most definitely "sounds like an Apple problem."

  • In other news... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @04:52PM (#35508446) Homepage

    ...parents left cookies on the table and were shocked to find that their children ate them when they weren't looking.

    • by bl4nk (607569)
      Said parents are now organizing a class action lawsuit against all manufacturers of cookie and cookie-like products.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ...parents left cookies on the table and were shocked to find that their children ate them when they weren't looking.

      Don't worry, citizens! Your elected officials are on the case! Legislation is being introduced requiring safety locks on all cookie jars sold in the United States. Rumor has it that an Anti-Cookie-Trafficking Agreement is also in the works that would extend these protections around the world!

    • To be fair, it's more like unlocking the cubboard, taking some cookies out for the kids, relocking it, and then finding our your kids ransacked it because the relocking takes 15 minutes to take effect.

      At least, that's how I imagine parents would perceive it.

      • by dzfoo (772245)

        So, what you mean is, that it's more like unlocking the cupboard, taking some cookies out for the kids, leaving the cupboard open with the assumption that it eventually locks itself back, and then finding your kids ransacked it because you didn't care enough to read the manual which states that re-locking takes 15 minutes to take effect.

        The fact that you yourself have noticed that you are able to take more than one cookie at a time for a short time after unlocking it did not cross your mind either.

        • Perhaps there's something I'm missing, but I've never noticed that entering the password is good for 15 minutes, and it's not mentioned in iTunes' help files that I can see. I always thought I had to enter the password for every purchase, because that's what I've always done.
        • Re:In other news... (Score:4, Informative)

          by lactose99 (71132) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:28PM (#35509564)

          To be fair, it isn't mentioned anywhere in the pamphlet you receive with the iPhone or iPod, its buried within the iTunes website terms-and-conditions (at least last time I checked). If there were a warning label you had to pull-off each new iDevice I'd be right there with you, but you really have to look for it to find the iTunes lockout timeout (at least you did before this story broke).

          That being said I'm generally not a believer of ignorance-as-a-defense, but I can certainly see why Apple would change this behavior and why the FTC would look into it.

    • ...parents left cookies on the table and were shocked to find that their children ate them when they weren't looking.

      ... and were quite relieved that the kids stopped once the jar was empty (rather than Nabisco coming to "helpfully" refill it, again and again, and billing the parents for this wonderful service...)

  • This is EXACTLY what lead to the big die-off of the dinosaurs.

    • by zill (1690130)
      Exactly. I've been saying that iProducts are weapons of mass extinction events for years, but people just wouldn't listen.
      • by ackthpt (218170)

        Exactly. I've been saying that iProducts are weapons of mass extinction events for years, but people just wouldn't listen.

        No... The dinosaurs had less sampled, repetitive and mind-numbing music, so their brains woke up and started to function.

        The first thing they did was realize they didn't get along with each other.

        The second thing they did was become polarized politically.

        The third thing they did was elect that stupid diplodocus from Gondwanaland as President.

        The forth thing they did was a huge military build up.

        The fifth thing they did was use it against themselves.

        Meanwhile, the early mammals saw this coming and hid in th

        • by idontgno (624372)

          Meanwhile, the early mammals saw this coming and hid in their burrows until it was all over.

          A time-honored, deeply cherished survival technique still used by the most intelligent descendants of those same mammals, in spite of vicious and unprovoked mockery.

          Yes, that's right. Living in Mom's basement is a mark of extremely advanced evolution.

      • by Noughmad (1044096)

        But the EULA says they can't be!

    • Apple iOS update blamed for 90% reduced revenue for small game developers.

      40% of small game developers have gone out of business since this change.

      BAD APPLE.

  • It's about time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jeffmeden (135043) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @04:54PM (#35508484) Homepage Journal

    Thank god they wised up and put in a new password prompt for in-game purchases. Now all they have to do is sit back and wait for the complaints to come in that "my kids said 'hey what's the password?' and then I got hundreds of dollars of racked up charges." Never mind the fact that they have a KID'S GAME that includes paying for virtual nothingness. I guess Steve's new motto is "get them addicted early."

    • by hedwards (940851)

      You have to draw the line somewhere, but the whole notion that online retailers insist upon saving your credit information is absurd. Beyond the tendency to overspend, there's also the issue of all of a sudden you have to worry about somebody stealing the details and running up large bills with stolen credit card details.

      • Re:It's about time (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jeffmeden (135043) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @05:13PM (#35508732) Homepage Journal

        Exactly. The whole notion that it should be as easy as possible to spend money is rooted in the corporation's desire for us to not think twice about it.

        Back when Blockbuster was relevant, (and gamefly didn't exist) they had an all-you-can-rent plan for games. The one requirement to signing up was that you needed to use a genuine credit card, not a bank-backed credit/debit card but a genuine going-into-debt card. What's the difference? The real credit card won't stop you from spending beyond your limit; ergo they get their money no matter what even if you can't technically afford it.

        Easy spending is an epidemic (in most western nations at least) just as bad as easy eating, and we just keep lining up to support the companies that are sucking us in.

        • by ptbarnett (159784)

          The one requirement to signing up was that you needed to use a genuine credit card, not a bank-backed credit/debit card but a genuine going-into-debt card. What's the difference? The real credit card won't stop you from spending beyond your limit; ergo they get their money no matter what even if you can't technically afford it.

          The rental car companies have the exact same requirement: You must make the reservation with a credit card, although you can eventually pay the bill with a debit card. The reason was so they could put a hold on enough funds to cover the payment plus the damages if you totaled the car (note this is not the value of the entire car, but the limited "deductible" you agree to in the contract).

          Very often, when they put a hold on this amount on a debit card, it pushed the underlying checking account into ov

      • Re:It's about time (Score:5, Insightful)

        by egamma (572162) <egamma@gm a i l .com> on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @05:18PM (#35508784)

        You have to draw the line somewhere, but the whole notion that online retailers insist upon saving your credit information is absurd. Beyond the tendency to overspend, there's also the issue of all of a sudden you have to worry about somebody stealing the details and running up large bills with stolen credit card details.

        Retailers need to store credit cards to issue refunds on returns. After that time period, I think they should delete the info. In reality, it can be tricky to clean up all references to data.

        • Re:It's about time (Score:5, Interesting)

          by BitZtream (692029) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @05:41PM (#35509030)

          No, they don't. They need the transaction id, nothing more.

          I know, we do CC transactions all the time and never have a CC number longer than the time it takes for a web page to pass it off to authorize.net. We can still easily refund the transaction or adjust the value down if need be.

          There are also methods for recurring billing that do basically the same thing, we get a reference ID, at the end of the billing period we send a 'bill these reference IDs for the price determined when the reference was setup' and they return a list of successful and unsuccessful transactions.

          Authorize.NET handles all the work for us, allowing us to not be bound by all the rules of PCI and not having to worry so much about what happens if your DB gets hacked, we have no CC numbers for anyone to steal.

      • You have to draw the line somewhere, but the whole notion that online retailers insist upon saving your credit information is absurd.

        Meh. You're talking about something that goes wrong about 0.001% of the time... and in cases of outright fraud, the consumer typically isn't even held responsible by their credit card issuer.

        Here's a radical idea: how about if parents try applying some actual discipline? Before making online commerce less convenient for everyone else, can we try that and see if it works?

      • by batkiwi (137781)

        Then don't give apple your CC number and buy gift cards, using cash, from retail stores instead.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      I wonder if there's a $1 fee for prompting for password in-game? That could balance things out for their books, royalty wise, wouldn't it? Of course, it's venal, but hey, who said they were saints anyway?

    • by netsharc (195805)

      Hey, those carts of virtual berries cost $100 (IIRC, even if it's $20 that's freaking insane!), and of course Apple won't do anything about it, since, hey, the Don gets a 30% cut!

      • by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @05:13PM (#35508736) Homepage Journal

        o_o
        "You found a treasure chest."
        O_o
        "It's a big SHINY treasure chest."
        O_O
        "It's probably full of really neat stuff!"
        @_@
        "Buy a key? Only $10. (Y/n)"

        • by netsharc (195805)

          Yeah, and now the kid's whining about wanting to see what's in the treasure chest... pretty fucking evil of the game-maker, but heh, look at FarmVille, the VC's love it! I can already see how the game won't be doable without using something inside that treasure chest.

          Maybe I should make a clone of that "Am I rich?" app that cost $1000-1, call it "diamond collector" and let the users collect 200 dollar images of colored stones, which are purchasable within a 2-week window only. Get it now to complete your co

          • man, you have a business plan that could work, that is more than most of those apps startups.

    • Re:It's about time (Score:5, Insightful)

      by v1 (525388) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @05:13PM (#35508728) Homepage Journal

      if I had it to design myself, I'd make it so that apps could do in-game purchases that would require a call to the store API. That would pause the game and pop up a purchase area that didn't look like the game, that required their password for access. Then within that area they could buy items. Then leave that area to return to the game. Then require the password next time they wanted to go there.

      That would help create a division between the game and the store. Right now with completely in-game purchasing, the kids don't see the purchase as anything other than just another button to click in the game. It needs to have a completely different, consistent look to it, that says "you are not in the game right now, you are in the STORE, spending REAL MONEY".

      Another alternate implementation could be to just make such an area to "fund" the game. Then the game devs could implement their own in-game experience store, but that would draw on the funds transferred from the store. That would allow the parents to say "ok Timmy I've put $10 into your Smurfs store, spend it wisely!" That would actually be a good experience for the kids... they need to learn the value of money. It would also relieve the parents of having to mess with the store every time their kid wanted to buy their pet grasshopper a different color of shoes for a quarter etc.

      • by maxume (22995)

        I'm probably an asshole, but any kids I end up having will be enjoying buying left and right and up and down on their etch-a-sketch, not buying virtual food for their cartoon friends.

      • some games have fake in game money and there should be a SYSTEM GUI for buying stuff with REAL money or points that cost real money.

      • by tool462 (677306)

        The Wii has a similar system for their online content. You buy credits with real money, then you use those credits to buy games and extra content.

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @04:59PM (#35508542)
    I really don't see how this is much of a parenting issue. Many kids have an iPod touch just like they might have a GameBoy or DS. The problem is that in-game purchases are too integrated into the game and it is feasible that a kid playing a game might not fully realize that this is going to be charged real money. Ideally what Apple would do would be when you set up your device in iTunes, you can create a "gift card only" account on it that would only bill gift cards and wouldn't buy something without enough store credit. So kids could still download free apps and spend their gift cards on apps/DLC but without the fear of it charging their parent's credit card.
    • by DdJ (10790) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @05:04PM (#35508594) Homepage Journal

      They already have that kind of thing, and even the concept of giving an allowance to a kid's iTunes account.

      http://support.apple.com/kb/ht2105 [apple.com]

      The "problem" arises here when the parent hands their own iOS device with their own account to the kid within epsilon of using the account themselves (eg. right after they installed a game). If the kids really had their own iOS devices and iTunes accounts to begin with, the problems aren't the same.

    • I really don't see how this is much of a parenting issue.

      Maybe it's because I'm older than you, but I was taught rather sternly not to mess with the phone because of the risk of long-distance charges being added. Seems like a better solution than bitching to the phone company about it.

      • Except for the fact that it is primarily a technical issue and not a parenting one. Apple's main job should be to deliver the highest quality product possible in order to gain the most profit. Since obviously people are using Apple's product in this way, even if you don't agree with it, Apple should support their customers by adding things to assist them in the way they use their product.

        And really, by discouraging kids from playing with technology it breeds them into people who are paranoid about techn
        • I think that in this case what Apple did was perfectly reasonable. It was simple to implement and it makes it a bit more secure. The underlying issue, though, is that you cannot child-proof the world.

        • This is good for everyone. I remember back in the non smartphone days everyone always being scared of the phone because it might charge you for doing something. The people who wouldn't read text messages because they thought it would cost them money (when in fact it already had just due to the fact that you received it), not wanting to change a ringtone, etc. etc. And the thing was, it was based in truth. You press the center button on a non AT&T smartphone and boom your on the internet. Racking up per

    • by gfreeman (456642) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @05:12PM (#35508720)

      I really don't see how this is much of a parenting issue. ... a kid playing a game might not fully realize that this is going to be charged real money.

      Sounds TOTALLY like a parenting issue to me.

      See those candies in the store? Not the store's job to tell the kid they need real money to buy them.

      If you haven't taught your kids to appreciate real money yet, then they shouldn't be in the position to spend real money without your supervision.

      • If you haven't taught your kids to appreciate real money yet, then they shouldn't be in the position to spend real money without your supervision.

        Which is exactly what this fixes. That kids can't spend real money without your permission. It is a technical issue. Apple has the capability to fix loopholes that allow kids to spend real money without their parents permission and they should fix them.

        The problem in this super-connected age is that there are fewer and fewer ways that allow kids to explore 'real' technology without the risk of accidentally purchasing some DLC. Especially when its on a cell phone with an always-on internet connection.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Ideally what Apple would do would be when you set up your device in iTunes, you can create a "gift card only" account on it that would only bill gift cards and wouldn't buy something without enough store credit. So kids could still download free apps and spend their gift cards on apps/DLC but without the fear of it charging their parent's credit card.

      Grats, you've described the exact set up my son has for my old 3G ipod touch (the one with the incredible 45 minute battery life coincidentally right after IOS 4 upgrade). It was pretty trivial to set up.

      Disadvantage is when you go to the store and see those giant racks of gift cards, he always wants to buy an itunes gift card. I suppose its healthier that fast food gift cards.

      • Hm, well I guess it is possible then, I didn't think it was because the last time I set up an iTunes account, creating one without a credit card required using an expired gift card or something along those lines.

        \\
        • by vlm (69642)

          Its possible something has changed, I did that about half a year ago.

    • The problem is that in-game purchases are too integrated into the game and it is feasible that a kid playing a game might not fully realize that this is going to be charged real money.

      Not really, no.

      As I recall from the last in-app purchase I made, it's actually a rather jarring break (intentionally so, I believe), and is not nearly as integrated as you claim. You have to go through a few rounds of pop-up notifications, each one saying that you WILL be charged, dictating the amount, and asking whether or not you are certain, not to mention that someone has to enter the password at least that first time (and now, every time). It's pretty far from One-Click type of transactions, and it bre

      • by Kjella (173770)

        No, if you have just entered your password (like, because you have just bought a new game and handed the iPhone to the kid) they'll not get any password prompt. It'll be a buy button and it buys, plain and simple. From what I gather that also resets your timeout so kids could play it for a long time racking up charges. It's far from obvious to a child that it's real money and not just fake money - I don't use real dollars when I "buy" something in Monopoly...

  • by romanval (556418) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @05:03PM (#35508580)
    This is how you avoid this problem:

    Step 1: Get Kid's iPod Touch/iPhone.
    Step 2: Setting->General->Restrictions->Enable Restrictions. Remember the passcode.
    Step 3: Setting->General->Restrictions->In App Purchases, TURN OFF.
    .
    That wasn't so hard now was it?
    • It's four clicks deep, and you have to know it's there. Most people aren't tech junkies.
    • by ljw1004 (764174)

      Step 4: If you're not rich enough to afford giving an $800 device to each of your children, and have only your own, then say to kid "No you can't use my iPhone".

      Step 5: On a long car journey where young kid needs distraction, repeat "No you can't use my iPhone".

      Step 6: When young kid continues to whine, repeat "No you can't use my iPhone"

      Step 7: When young kid asks why not, explain "Because I went to setting>general>restrictions and turned off the passcode memory"

      Step 8: When young kid asks again why

    • Remember the passcode??

      Remember the current demographic of slashdot readers are the ones currently suffering from short-term memory loss. But we prefer the term "information overload".

      • Step 1: Get Kid's iPod Touch/iPhone
      • Step 2: Take it away
      • Step 3: Say, "you will not get to use this again until you can prove to me that you are responsible with spending money."

      This is Parenting 101, whether it is conch shells, cocoa beans, pieces of eight or virtual dollars. Teach them to be mature humans, not depend on technology to babysit them.

  • ...how many people here racked up multiple hundreds of dollars on their parents' credit card, playing premium games on Compuserve and its competitors or dialing long-distance BBS numbers.
  • Accountability (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jklovanc (1603149) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @05:09PM (#35508672)

    What ever happened to parents holding their children, and themselves for that matter, accountable for their actions. In any child of mine purchased anything online without my permission I would make them work to pay the charges. Maybe it will teach the children the value of money. Maybe it will also teach parents to log out of iTunes before handing the phone over to someone else. In my mind this is no different than logging into one's bank account and the letting a child play on the computer without logging out.

    • The parents were held accountable because they had to pay off their credit cards. There's your accountability right there. From there, it's up to the parents to figure out what to do beyond that.

      Parents aren't perfect and they have to learn. Yes this is a mistake, and it's good that this is out in the media so that parents can learn from others who made this mistake. It's easy to armchair quarterback parents after making a mistake. I find people who do that a lot either have no kids, or have the delusi

  • How about Apple offer the OPTION to either have a timed period of no re-authorization, or require it every time? The idea that Apple was just flabbergasted than CHILDRENS games with trivially simply in app purchases were resulting in purchases not authorized by the parents is laughable. Apple knew exactly what was going on, refused to do anything about it until the gravy train intersected the negative publicity tractor trailer, and now is putting in a change that can only be called "plausible deniability"
    • by yurtinus (1590157)
      ...or you could just teach your kids the value of the money they are spending on their phone. If that's too hard you could enable the restrictions *already in place* before you hand the phone over to them. Heaven forbid somebody actually take responsibility for their own devices.

      Oh you're right, clearly this is Apple's fault.
  • ...will get you every time.
  • Anyone remember Smurfberry Crunch cereal? http://bluebuddies.com/Smurfs_Smurf_Cereal.htm [bluebuddies.com]
  • by martin-boundary (547041) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @05:31PM (#35508904)
    How about an opening screen with multiple choice questions to verify the kid's age? It's, like, totally foolproof!

    Who was banned from "Saturday Night Live" because he lost a telephone poll?
    a. John Belushi
    b. Dan Akroyd
    c. Chevy Chase
    d. Andy Kaufman

    Mork was from the planet
    a. Ork.
    b. Vulcan.
    c. Krypton.
    d. Pluto.

    A nehru jacket is
    a. made from tanned nehru hides.
    b. out of date.
    c. a Middle Eastern prophylactic.
    d. around a car's radiator.

    If a physician were stranded on a desert island with Bo Derek, he would probably
    a. build a boat.
    b. take two aspirins.
    c. overcharge her.
    d. thank God.

    More here [allowe.com].

    • I'm 30 and I only know the 2nd one. These questions are better suited to the AARP crowd.

      Sorry D:
  • If i pulled some shit like this when I was a kid, I'd get my ass beat with the belt.
  • We gave out kids debit cards that have just a certain amount on them. They are very much like debit-based gift cards, except these have their name on them and act like a bank debit card. We can put as little or as much as they want on those cards. There are no overdrafts on these cards, however. If they reach 0 or a transaction would go negative, the transaction is declined and nothing pulls from our main account. They use those on iTunes.

    Of course, some kids are too young for that perhaps... so do som

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