Coalition of child advocacy, health, safety, privacy and consumer organization document how data-driven marketing undermines privacy and welfare of young people
Children and teenagers experience widespread commercial surveillance practices to collect data used to target them with marketing. Targeted and personalized advertising remains the dominant business model for digital media, with the marketing and advertising industry identifying children and teens as a prime target. Minors are relentlessly pursued while, simultaneously, they are spending more time online than ever before. Children’s lives are filled with surveillance, involving the collection of vast amounts of personal data of online users. This surveillance, informed by behavior science and maximized by evolving technologies, allows platforms and marketers to profile and manipulate children.
The prevalence of surveillance advertising and targeted marketing aimed at minors is unfair in violation of Section 5. Specifically, data-driven marketing and targeted advertising causes substantial harm to children and teens by:
violating their privacy;
manipulating them into being interested in harmful products;
undermining their autonomy
perpetuating discrimination and bias;
Additionally, the design choices tech companies use to optimize engagement and data collection in order to target marketing to minors further harm children and teens. These harms include undermining their physical and mental wellbeing and increasing the risk of problematic internet risk. These harms cannot reasonably be avoided by minors or their families, and there are no countervailing benefits to consumers or competition that outweigh these harms.
Surveillance advertising is also deceptive to children, as defined by the Federal Trade Commission. The representations made about surveillance advertising by adtech companies, social media companies, apps, and games are likely to mislead minors and their parents and guardians. These misrepresentations and omissions are material. Many companies also mislead minors and their guardians by omission because they fail to disclose important information about their practices. These practices impact the choices of minors and their families every day as they use websites, apps, and services without an understanding of the complex system of data collection, retention, and sharing that is used to influence them online. We therefore urge the Commission to promulgate a rule that prohibits targeted marketing to children and teenagers.
Groups filing the comment included: The Center for Digital Democracy, Fairplay, and #HalfTheStory, American Academy of Pediatrics, Becca Schmill Foundation, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Federation of California, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action, Enough is Enough, LookUp.live, Lynn’s Warriors, National Eating Disorders Association, Parents Television and Media Council, ParentsTogether, Peace Educators Allied for Children Everywhere (P.E.A.C.E.), Public Citizen and UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health
FairPlay's executive director Josh Golin said: "Big Tech's commercial surveillance business model undermines young people's wellbeing and development. It causes kids and teens to spend excessive time online, and exposes them to harmful content and advertising targeted to their vulnerabilities. The FTC must adopt a series of safeguards to allow vulnerable youth to play, learn, and socialize online without being manipulated or harmed. Most importantly, the Commission should prohibit data-driven advertising and marketing to children and teens, and make clear that Silicon Valley profits cannot come at the expense of young people's wellbeing.”
CDD's Jeff Chester underscored this saying: "Children and teens are key commercial targets of today’s data-driven surveillance complex. Their lives are tethered to a far-reaching system that is specifically designed to influence how they spend their time and money online, and uses artificial intelligence, virtual reality, geo-tracking, neuromarketing and more to do so. In addition to the loss of privacy, surveillance marketing threatens their well-being, health and safety. It’s time for the Federal Trade Commission to enact safeguards that protect young people. "
[full filing attached]