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2015 Lessons Learned, 2016 Practical Tips

Children's Advertising >> Children’s Privacy at the Heart of Regulatory Action

April 19, 2016

Regulators and industry members continued to focus attention on children’s privacy, particularly in response to the rush of technology involving child-directed toys and child-directed apps.

Last year, Google launched YouTube Kids, which uses algorithms to filter and select age-appropriate content from YouTube. After the launch, consumer groups complained to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about blurred lines between advertising and content for children and the possibility of children discovering inappropriate content using the app’s search mechanism. The groups also asked the FTC to investigate whether the app was behaviorally tracking children in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Google recently updated the application to address the growing concerns.

Meanwhile, the FTC still is engaged in a lawsuit against Amazon for alleged unfair billing for in-app purchases made by children without their parent’s consent.

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), the self-regulatory arm of children’s advertising, continued enforcement of the CARU Guidelines, including in an inquiry involving the Harlem Globetrotters’ website. Although the site primarily targeted an adult audience, ads in Boys' Life and Sports Illustrated Kids directed children to visit the site. CARU determined that the age-screening mechanism in place (a checkbox) was ineffective and, according to CARU, not in compliance with CARU Guidelines and COPPA. The Globetrotters agreed to modify the site based on CARU’s recommendations.

CARU also claimed that McDonald’s Happy Meal advertisements violated CARU Guidelines. CARU determined that the overall impression created by the advertisements focused on the “free“ premium instead of the meal and, therefore, children could have trouble distinguishing between the premium and the product.

At the state level, California continued to lead the nation in children’s privacy protections, adopting the California “Online Eraser” law (officially, the California Rights for Minors in the Digital World Act) to provide minors with the right to remove content posted by them on any website, application, or online service. The law was intended to curb the permanency of Internet discussion, although it should be noted that most major platforms already allowed for this type of deletion.

Looking Ahead

  • As the market for wearable technology and child-directed toys and apps continues to grow, children’s marketers and agencies should expect to see more regulatory action to ensure that new services maintain the levels of protection required by COPPA and current law.
  • Children’s marketers and agencies should continue to design and monitor the use of child-directed apps that include in-app charges to ensure clear disclosure of charges and parental consent to those charges.
  • The CARU Guidelines should be reviewed to ensure compliance prior to advertising to children and, in particular, to make sure food advertisements focus on the product offered and not a “free” premium gift.