“Educational” Apps Teach Kids to Buy, FTC Told

by: The Knowledge Group

November 07, 2018


recent study of apps for kids finds they’re filled with advertising. Apps marketed as educational are loaded with banner and click advertisements that distract young minds from learning, says Dr. Jenny Radesky of the University of Michigan Medical School, one of the study’s authors.

On average, young children use mobile apps an hour each day. Selections geared for small children in the Google Play store include pop-up commercials that no child could reasonably close. Game characters suggest that young users make purchases. One game has a character who cries if the child does not buy something.

When, during the study, Dr. Radesky’s own child played with one of the games, disturbing political imagery popped up.

Will the FTC Step In?

Children’s media and health advocacy groups have asked the FTC to investigate. They cite the Federal Trade Commission Act, which bans unfair and deceptive business practices. They point out the unfairness to children and the deception inherent in the integration of commercial suggestions into education and play.

This practice of host-selling (marketing endorsements by paid characters in a show) has been prohibited since 1974 in children’s television programming by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. And the Federal Communications Commission requires that broadcast licensees “protect children from excessive and inappropriate commercial messages.” It is time, advocates insist, for this protection to apply to the purveyors of apps for children.

Google defends the integration of commercials into apps, assuming the companies adhere to privacy laws and don’t contravene Google’s policies, such as a provision that bars companies from collecting data on users under age 13.

Communications Law on the Verge of Big Changes

Professor Kathryn Montgomery, who helped lead the effort to pass the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, wants a new landmark act to protect kids from online commercial messages.

Read the full story about this research and advocacy in the New York Times.

Meanwhile, other likely changes in communications law are looming in the digital age. Join us on Tuesday, November 20, 2018, for a live webcast on communications and privacy law.