Senate Dems Seek FTC Investigation of Kids Apps

A trio of Senate Democratic members of the Senate Commerce Committee are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate children's app marketing.

In a letter to FTC chair, Joseph Simons and the other FTC commissioners, Sens Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) cited a study in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics that found manipulative marketing techniques in children's online games that the senators said appear to be unfair and deceptive.

That included ads "disguised" as content, characters "coercing" kids to make in-app purchases, and content labeled educational but "riddled with ads." The two are not mutually exclusive, of course. All of the educational kids content on commercial broadcasting is supported by ads. But the senators say the "recurrent interruptions and marketing messages" in the games decrease their educational value.

They want an immediate investigation and an answer on whether that is forthcoming by Dec. 4.

The letter comes only a couple of weeks after a group of advocates, also armed with a study, asked the FTC to investigate Android apps targeted to kids five and under, alleging many are unfair and/or deceptive.

Those groups also want the commission to hold app developers to account for those alleged unfair and deceptive practices (disguising ads as being part of a game, for example), including marketing the apps that require in-app purchases as "free" and manipulating children to access advertising.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.