' Amara Lopez | MTTLR

FTC Urged to Address Manipulative Ads in Preschool Apps

Children eight years old and under average over two hours of “screen time” (watching videos, playing games, etc.) a day. This includes using apps on tablets, smartphones, and other electronic devices. A recent study by the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital shows that many apps are abusing the developmental vulnerabilities of preschool-aged children to get them to watch advertisements and make in-app purchases. The study notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends elimination of advertising in apps marketed to children 5 and under, while finding that 35 percent of the apps studied (and 54 percent of free apps studied) interrupted play with advertising videos. The study further concludes that in the 135 apps reviewed, there are “high rates of mobile advertising through manipulative and disruptive methods. These results have implications for advertising regulation, parent media choices, and apps’ educational value.” The study found that various applications falsely marketed apps as free, then manipulated the user—the child—to make a purchase later on in order to continue playing the game. Many apps disguised advertisements as gameplay. Often, popular characters from the games themselves urged the child to make purchases. Although apps are known for containing advertisements and trying to persuade users to make purchases, the critical piece here is the targeted age of these users: under 5 years old. The study explains that “when advertisements are combined with rewards, both cognitive and emotional processes respond to persuasion. In the case of the gamified ads we documented—those involving watching ads to collect tokens or gameplay items—children under 6 years may be especially susceptible to this approach because of their responsiveness to positive reinforcers.” In addition...