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PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

Amazon to Refund Parents Whose Children Made In-App Purchases Without Permission

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PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon on behalf of millions of parents whose kids spent money on in-app purchases without permission, on the grounds that the tech company made it far too easy for children to run up unlimited charges without any kind of permission from the account holder. Now, a federal judge has ruled that Amazon needs to set up a payment plan for the eligible customers to begin in 2017, Reuters reports.

The FTC alleged that, beginning in 2011, Amazon’s lack of parental permission guards resulted in $86 million in unauthorized charges for mobile games targeted toward kids like "Ice Age Village," and subsequent updates to the in-app purchase process did little to fix the issue. According to the FTC, "kids’ games often encourage children to acquire virtual items in ways that blur the lines between what costs virtual currency and what costs real money." A 2012 update to the charge system limited the amount of money kids could spend without parental permission, but still allowed charges of up to $20 without any kind of approval from a parent’s account. Internal communications from Amazon show that employees knew the extent of the problem, and likened the situation to "near house on fire."

A U.S. district judge in Seattle found the company liable in April 2016, and has now ordered the company to begin paying out eligible customers. Regulators had argued for a $26.5 million lump-sum payout, but the judge found those damages to be too high. Instead, the company will have to alert customers who are eligible starting next year, and begin reimbursing them in cash (not gift cards, as Amazon requested).

Amazon is not the first tech company to be held accountable for profits reaped from kids buying digital goods without their parents’ knowledge. Apple and Google have previously been targeted by the FTC over similar issues, and began paying refunds out in 2014.

[h/t Reuters]

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entertainment
Pablo, a Groundbreaking New BBC Series, Teaches Kids About Autism
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BBC

Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 kids in the U.S., but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the nature of the condition and what it feels like to have it. As BuzzFeed reports, a new British children’s program aims to teach viewers about autism while showing kids on the spectrum characters and stories to which they can relate.

Pablo, which premiered on the BBC’s kids’ network CBeebies earlier this month, follows a 5-year-old boy as he navigates life with autism. The show uses two mediums: At the start of an episode, Pablo is played by a live actor and faces everyday scenarios, like feeling overstimulated by a noisy birthday party. When he’s working out the conflict in his head, Pablo is depicted as an animated doodle accompanied by animal friends like Noa the dinosaur and Llama the llama.

Each character illustrates a different facet of autism spectrum disorder: Noa loves problem-solving but has trouble reading facial expression, while Llama notices small details and likes repeating words she hears. On top of demonstrating the diversity of autism onscreen, the show depends on individuals with autism behind the scenes as well. Writers with autism contribute to the scripts and all of the characters are voiced by people with autism.

“It’s more than television,” the show’s creator Gráinne McGuinness said in a short documentary about the series. “It’s a movement that seeks to build awareness internationally about what it might be like to see the world from the perspective of someone with autism.”

Pablo can be watched in the UK on CBeebies or globally on the network's website.

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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Animals
These Mobile Libraries Roaming Zimbabwe Are Pulled By Donkeys
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The people behind the Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program (RLRDP) believe you shouldn’t have to travel far to access good reading material. That’s why they have donkeys do a lot of the traveling for the people they help. According to inhabitat, RLRDP manages 15 donkey-powered library carts that deliver books to communities without libraries of their own.

The organization was founded in 1990 with the mission of bringing libraries to rural parts of Zimbabwe. Five years later, they started hitching up donkeys to carts packed with books. Each mobile library can hold about 1200 titles, and 12 of the 15 carts are filled exclusively with books for kids. The donkeys can transport more than just paperbacks: Each two-wheeled cart has space for a few riders, and three of them are outfitted with solar panels that power onboard computers. While browsing the internet or printing documents, visitors to the library can use the solar energy to charge their phones.

Donkeys pulling a cart

Carts usually spend a day in the villages they serve, and that short amount of time is enough to make a lasting impact. RLRDP founder Dr. Obadiah Moyo wrote in a blog post, “The children explore the books, sharing what they’ve read, and local storytellers from the community come to bring stories to life. It really is a day to spread the concept of reading and to develop the reading culture we are all working towards.”

Kids getting books from a cart.

About 1600 individuals benefit from each cart, and Moyo says schools in the areas they visit see improvement in students. The donkey-pulled libraries are only part of what RLRDP does: The organization also trains rural librarians, installs computers in places without them, and delivers books around Zimbabwe via bicycle—but the pack animals are hard to top. Moyo writes, “When the cart is approaching a school, the excitement from the children is wonderful to see as they rush out to greet it.”

[h/t inhabitat]

All images courtesy of Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program

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