Senators ask FTC to investigate malicious ads in apps geared for kids

Several Senators have urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the practice of monetizing kids' mobile games and apps.

Several Senators have urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the practice of monetizing kids' mobile games and apps, which are usually published under the guise of being educational or 100 percent free but are actually riddled with advertisements. 

Ads in mobile games aren't a new phenomena, but apps and games geared toward children seem to be bombarded with exploitative ads. There have also been issues in the past with mobile marketplaces sharing children's data with advertising and online tracking companies.

In a similar vein, Ubisoft came under fire last week when a parent noticed that Just Dance 2019  advertised songs locked behind a paid subscription when the game is in the simplified Kids Mode. While not a mobile game, its clear that this is an issue for content specifically marked for children. 

As TechCrunch reports, the Senators are saying that especially in the case of kids’ apps, the practices of ads unfairly targeting children may qualify as “unfair and deceptive” under the FTC’s definitions, and warrants an investigation.

“We write regarding the manipulative marketing practices by apps designed for children,” write Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in their letter to the FTC.

“Children should be able to entertain themselves and play without being bombarded by promotional messages, which young people may not be able to accurately assess and identify as marketing.”

The letter includes evidence of:

  • Children’s games disguising advertisements and making advertisements central to the actual games
  • Games using characters to coerce children into making in-app purchases
  • Children’s apps being marketed as ‘free,’ when those apps require additional spending in order to play
  • Children’s apps marketing themselves as educational, when they're overloaded with advertising.

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