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Study raises concerns about children being exposed in-app ads

ANI | Updated: Oct 31, 2018 15:50 IST

Washington, DC, [USA] Oct 31 (ANI): According to a recent study, smartphone and tablet apps, targeting toddlers and preschoolers, have commercial content that uses manipulative and disruptive advertising methods.
"We found, particularly among free apps, a high prevalence of advertising using distracting features, potentially manipulative approaches, and content that did not appear to be age appropriate," said Jenny Radesky, lead researcher of the study.
The exploratory study analyzed the rates and content of advertising in popular apps for children aged one to five years. A recent study reported that young children use mobile devices an average of one hour per day. In contrast to television advertising, there are no regulations concerning in-app advertising to children.
The research first performed a mobile device tracking study of 39 apps played with by young children in order to develop a reliable coding scheme. Using this scheme, they then evaluated the prevalence, design, and content of advertising in the 96 most commonly installed free and paid apps marketed to children aged 5 years and younger.
Overall 95 percent of apps had at least one type of advertising, including 100 percent of free apps. The researchers focused on six categories of ads, in order of frequency:
*Commercial characters, such as characters from cartoon and toy franchises- Often these characters not only were the object of gameplay but also had interactions with the user that could be characterized as social pressure or validation.
*Full-app teasers including prompts to upgrade to the full version of the app- These were often promoted as being "ad-free." In some cases, children could see but not unlock additional levels or game items without upgrading.
*Ad videos interrupting play- These included "pop-ups" that couldn't be closed until after the player had viewed the entire ad. "In some apps...pop-up videos took up roughly as much time as gameplay," the researchers note. Some pop-ups prompted children to watch an ad in exchange for items to make gameplay faster or easier.
*In-app purchases- Many apps allowed children to buy premium game items or additional gameplay time. Sometimes these purchases were specifically encouraged by commercial characters. This practice, called "host selling," is banned in children's television advertising.
*Ads that prompt users to share information- These included rating the game at app stores or on social media. A few apps even requested data on a child's location - a potential violation of the children's online privacy laws.
*Distracting and deceptive ads- These included some ads that were clearly inappropriate for children. Some apps contained ads "camouflaged" in-game items, which would play an ad video when clicked.
While previous studies have examined the quality of education and literacy apps for children, the new study is the first to look at the kind of advertisements children are exposed to when playing with mobile and interactive media. As part of the research, the authors discuss the implications for advertising regulation, parent media choices, and the educational value of apps for young children. They note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the elimination of advertising in apps marketed to children 5 and under. (ANI)

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