Udall, Markey, Blumenthal Call for FTC Investigation into Manipulative Marketing in Children’s Apps

Udall, Markey, Blumenthal Call for FTC Investigation into Manipulative Marketing in Children’s Apps

Many popular apps used by children 5 and under include manipulative marketing

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), members of the Senate Commerce Committee, called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to launch an investigation into new evidence of manipulative marketing in apps directed at children.

A new study authored by public health experts in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics reveals numerous instances of young children’s games using advertising techniques that appear to be unfair and deceptive practices as defined by Section V of the FTC Act. In their letter, the senators highlight evidence of children’s games disguising advertisements inside games, as well as making advertisements integral to games themselves; games using characters to coerce children into making in-app purchases; children’s apps being marketed as free when they actually require additional spending in order to play; and children’s apps characterizing themselves as educational, when they are in fact saturated with advertising.  

“The FTC has a statutory obligation to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive advertising practices. That responsibility is all the more urgent when the potential victims of such practices are children,” wrote the senators in their letter to the five FTC commissioners. “As parents increasingly permit kids to engage in online games and apps for entertainment and fun, it is imperative to ensure that these playtime options are compliant with existing laws. We, therefore, encourage you to immediately investigate the findings outlined above and protect children and families from unfair and deceptive practices in children’s apps.”

A copy of the letter can be found HERE. 
Udall has long championed strengthening consumer privacy rights, especially for children. In September, Udall wrote to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Joseph Simons expressing his concerns about potential violations to federal privacy laws by mobile apps directed at children. He also pressed top officials from prominent technology companies and internet service providers in a series of congressional oversight letters about whether they were taking the appropriate steps to protect privacy rights for children, in New Mexico and across the country. Additionally, during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in October, Udall questioned leading data privacy advocates about potential legislative approaches to safeguarding children’s privacy in the future.