program areas Digital Youth

  • CDD Executive Director, Jeff Chester speaks on Congress’ dismantling of the FCC Privacy Rule with CNN’s Jake Tapper on March 29th, 2017.Full interview available at (link is external).
  • Washington, DC (March 6, 2017): The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Common Sense Kids Action, Consumer Action and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reject industry requests to rescind the FCC’s broadband privacy rules, as this would leave parents effectively without any tools to protect their children’s privacy on broadband Internet Service Provider networks (ISPs). The groups warned that any attempts to modify the privacy rule would significantly weaken the privacy protections for children. The filing to the FCC was drafted by the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center (IPR). In October 2016, the Federal Communications Commission adopted ground-breaking privacy rules protecting the personal information of broadband internet service customers, including children. The FCC rules set limits on what internet service providers may do with the highly sensitive data that they collect in the course of providing internet service. These rules were intended to give consumers and parents the tools they need to make informed decisions about how their information, or the information of their children, is used by their ISP. Most significantly, the rules require ISPs to obtain opt-in approval for use and sharing of sensitive customer personal information for purposes other than providing broadband service. “Sensitive” information includes precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communications. In their filing, the advocates oppose petitions filed by ISPs, including Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner, that ask the FCC to reconsider its broadband privacy Order. The advocates explain in their filing with the FCC: Treating children’s information as sensitive and requiring notice and opt-in consent is necessary to protect children and is consistent with the FTC’s practices. This aspect of the rules is necessary, although not sufficient to protect children’s privacy. All web browsing and application usage histories must be treated as sensitive information because children's information is mixed with that of adults. In order to protect children from targeted advertising, all users' browsing and application histories must receive protection as such histories reveal traits, characteristics, likes, and dislikes. Marketers, who are intensely interested in targeting children and adolescents, would have a much greater ability to take unfair advantage of children, without these rules in place. The FCC should retain opt-in requirements for use of all categories of sensitive information, such as for web browsing and application usage histories. Since this data is inextricably intertwined with adult activities, any required additional sorting of this data into sensitive and non-sensitive data would inevitably lead to further erosion of privacy of all ISP users. Most Americans are oblivious to modern day big data practices and to the resulting potential risks to themselves or society at large. When it comes to vulnerable children it must be the obligation of ISPs to make a convincing case to parents that opting into the ISP’s data practices is in the best interest of their children. The following can be attributed to Katharina Kopp, Deputy Director, Center for Digital Democracy: The FCC Privacy Rules protect the fundamental rights of children to enjoy privacy and freedom from age-inappropriate commercial exploitation. Any attempts to weaken these rules is an attempt to leave parents and their children defenseless against powerful corporate interests. Digital food marketing of unhealthy foods to children and teens, for example, has contributed to an obesity epidemic that harms us all. This is unfair, unjust and not in the public interest. We call on the FCC to implement the Privacy Order in its entirety without any delay. The following can be attributed to Josh Golin, Executive Director, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood This is a crucial test for the FCC. Will the Commission insist that parents have a right to protect their children’s privacy online? Or will the FCC aid and abet the ISP’s efforts to build digital marketing profiles of vulnerable children? We call on the Commission to do the right thing and implement the Privacy Order. The following statement can be attributed to Linda Sherry, Director of National Priorities, Consumer Action: Consumer Action opposes efforts to rescind the FCC’s broadband privacy rules, which would jeopardize the privacy of all internet service customers and strip them of the right to assert control over their sensitive information including geo-location, financial, health, etc. We join the Center for Digital Democracy in highlighting the potential harm to children, a highly vulnerable and defenseless population that has gained important new rights under the rule, which specifically recognizes the sensitivity of children’s information. The Center for Digital Democracy is a leading nonprofit organization focused on empowering and protecting the rights of the public in the digital era. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood support parents’ efforts to raise healthy families by limiting commercial access to children. Consumer Action empowers low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers nationwide to prosper through education and advocacy. EPIC is a public interest research center in Washington, DC, established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, freedom of expression, and democratic values in the information age.
  • Reports

    The New Age of Food Marketing

    How companies are targeting and luring our kids — and what advocates can do about it

    This report provides a snapshot of five categories of marketing tactics used by fast food, snack food, and soft drink companies to target children and adolescents. These categories include: 1) creating immersive environments; 2) infiltrating social networks; 3) location-based and mobile marketing; 4) collecting personal data; and 5) studying and triggering the subconscious. Descriptions of these categories along with examples from the food and beverage industry are provided. The report concludes with a discussion of what advocates can do to protect children and adolescents from these harmful marketing tactics.
  • This report examines trends in digital marketing to youth that uses "immersive" techniques, social media, behavioral profiling, location targeting and mobile marketing, and neuroscience methods. Recommends principles for regulating inappropriate advertising to youth.
  • This report describes and provides examples of the types of digital marketing research utilized by the food and beverage industry and the potential effects it has on the health of children and adolescents. Researchers found that food and beverage industry, together with the companies they contract, are conducting three major types of research: 1) testing and deploying new marketing platforms, 2) creating new research methods to probe consumers’ responses to marketing, and 3) developing new means to assess the impact of new digital research on marketers’ profits. Researchers also found that industry puts this research into action, specifically through its efforts to target communities of color and youth.
    Jeff Chester
  • Internet-Connected Toys Are Spying on Kids, Threatening Their Privacy and Security

    Groups say products violate federal kids’ privacy law and FTC rules; New report on “Internet of Toys” accompanies unprecedented regulatory action from groups in US and EU

    WASHINGTON, DC – December 6, 2016 – The growing popularity of “smart” Internet-connected toys poses significant privacy, security, and other risks to children, according to a complaint filed today (link is external) by leading child advocacy, consumer, and privacy groups at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). My Friend Cayla and I-Que Intelligent Robot, dolls marketed to both young girls and boys, collect and use personal information from children in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and FTC rules prohibiting unfair and deceptive practices. The complaint calls upon the FTC to investigate and take action against Genesis Toys, the maker of My Friend Cayla and I-Que, and Nuance Communications, which provides third-party voice recognition software for the toys. Groups filing the complaint are the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC), the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), Consumers Union, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).When companies collect personal information from children through the Internet, they incur serious legal obligations to protect children’s privacy. COPPA reflects a general understanding that the collection and use of information about young children should be treated with care and avoided when possible. Yet, the complaint charges, “Both Genesis Toys and Nuance Communications unfairly and deceptively collect, use, and disclose audio files of children’s voices without providing adequate notice or obtaining verified parental consent.” The complaint also takes issue with Genesis' failure to take reasonable security measures to prevent unauthorized Bluetooth connections with the toys. As a result, Genesis fails to prevent strangers and predators from covertly eavesdropping on children's private conversations, which "creates a substantial risk of harm because children may be subject to predatory stalking or physical danger."“With the growing Internet of Things, American consumers face unprecedented levels of surveillance in their most private spaces, and young children are uniquely vulnerable to these invasive practices,“ said Claire T. Gartland, Director, EPIC Consumer Privacy Project. “The FTC has an obligation here to step in and safeguard the privacy of young children against toys that spy and companies that exploit their very voices for corporate gain.”According to the complaint, the list of privacy violations by these “spy toys” is lengthy. For example, the packaging for My Friend Cayla has no mention of privacy, and locating the doll's Terms of Service is a major challenge. Once a parent does locate Cayla’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use, these documents shed little light on what information is actually collected from children, how it’s used, or where it ends up. In one of the most serious legal violations, Genesis fails to get parents’ consent before collecting children’s voice recordings and other personal data. Children’s voice recordings from the dolls are also sent to Nuance, a company that may use them for its law enforcement and military intelligence products.“Genesis and Nuance are completely disregarding their legal and ethical obligations when it comes to kids’ privacy,” Gartland said. “Instead, they have chosen to exploit children’s sensitive voice recordings and private conversations for corporate profit. It is extremely alarming that what a child says to her ‘trusted’ friend could end up in a voice biometrics database sold to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.”Today’s FTC complaint is part of an unprecedented, coordinated, transatlantic legal action involving consumer and privacy groups in the US and Europe. Leading European consumer organizations filed a series of formal complaints with EU regulators, and with data protection, consumer protection, and product safety agencies in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, and Norway. The combined US and European advocacy effort was triggered by groundbreaking research from the Norwegian Consumer Council, which conducted an in-depth legal and technical analysis of three Internet-connected toys (link is external). The Council’s “Toyfail” report examined Cayla, I-Que, and Mattel’s interactive Hello Barbie doll, all of which are produced and distributed by multinational companies and targeted at children.These products are part of a new generation of digital playthings – known as the “Internet of Toys” – which are growing in popularity, with consumers spending an estimated $2.8 billion on them last year (link is external). The toys use WiFi, Bluetooth, or mobile apps, and offer “smart” features such as cameras, microphones, and sensors that can record and respond to children’s interactions.Consumer groups on both sides of the Atlantic have raised serious concerns about the threats that Internet-connected toys pose to children’s privacy, security, and safety, as well as potential harms to children’s psychosocial development.Researchers who analyzed the Cayla doll discovered that it had been pre-programmed with dozens of phrases that reference Disneyworld and Disney movies. This product placement is not disclosed to users and would be difficult for young children to recognize as advertising. “Children form friendships with dolls and toys with ‘personalities,’ and confide intimate details about their lives with them,” said CCFC’s Executive Director Josh Golin. “It is critical that the sensitive data collected by these toys be subject to the most stringent protections and not be used for manipulative and sneaky marketing.”Katie McInnis, technology policy counsel for Consumers Union, said, “As more toys are connected to the Internet, we have to ensure that children's privacy and security are protected. When a toy collects personal information about a child, families have a right to know, and they need to have meaningful choices to decide how their kids' data is used. We strongly urge the FTC to investigate these companies, stop the deceptive practices, and hold them accountable."“Children today are growing up immersed in a digital world, where mobile devices, games, apps, and now a new generation of Internet-toys are profoundly shaping their social interactions, personal experiences, and behaviors,” commented Kathryn Montgomery, Professor of Communication at American University and consultant to CDD. “Regulators need to ensure that children will be able to reap the benefits of these digital technologies without being subjected to harmful practices that undermine their privacy, safety, and wellbeing.”As Montgomery, who led the campaign for passage of COPPA, also noted: “This will be a crucial test of the new FTC under the Trump Administration. Now more than ever, we must ensure that children’s needs are high on the policy agenda for the Big Data era.”The full FTC complaint from CCFC, CDD, Consumers Union, and EPIC is available at (link is external).The full Toyfail report is available at (link is external).A short video demonstrating the toys’ vulnerabilities can be viewed at (link is external).
  • News

    Federal Trade Commission Must Stop “Influencer” Marketing Targeting Kids on YouTube and Other Digital Sites

    Complaint Filed Against Unfair and Deceptive Practices Used by Google, Disney’s Maker Studios, DreamWorks-Owned AwesomenessTV, and Other Companies, by Leading Advocacy Groups

    The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Public Citizen filed a complaint at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today asking for an investigation and enforcement action against Google (a subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc.), Disney’s Maker Studios, DreamWorks-owned AwesomenessTV, and two other companies for the unfair and deceptive practice of targeting “influencer” marketing toward children. The complaint documents how several marketing companies—Collab Creators, Wild Brain, Maker Studios, and AwesomenessTV—produce and distribute ads and other commercial material targeting children that masquerade as content. It also details how Google encourages and benefits from the production of child-directed influencer videos and distributes these ads to children on its YouTube and YouTube Kids platforms. These “influencer” ads take unfair advantage of kids, who do not have the ability to recognize that companies use social media and YouTube celebrities to pitch toys, junk food, and other products. The groups also called on the FTC to release policy guidance that makes clear that using influencers to persuade children to buy a product or urge their parents to buy a product is unfair and deceptive. “Child-directed influencer marketing is misleading to children because their developing brains do not process or understand advertisements the way adults do—especially advertisements disguised as content,” said Laura Moy, Director at the Institute for Public Representation (IPR) at Georgetown University Law Center, which represents the groups. Existing FTC regulations require that advertisements be disclosed as such—which many influencer ads fail to do—but the complaint also makes clear that better disclosure alone is not a sufficient remedy because it “would not negate the inherent deceptiveness of child-directed influencer marketing.” As a result of the FTC’s inaction, marketing companies—backed by Google and others—are increasing investments in their influencer marketing practices with harmful results. “In many cases these advertisements cause children to want unhealthy and costly products,” Moy pointed out. “As this marketing practice expands even while evidence mounts that it is harmful to children, it becomes increasingly urgent for the FTC to make clear that the practice is unfair and deceptive under the law.” According to the complaint, the FTC can reverse the trend of harmful influencer marketing directed toward children by issuing policy guidance that makes clear that existing laws serve as a safeguard to protect children from these advertisements. The complaint analyzes the influencer marketing apparatus, and the role that Google and so-called Multi-Channel Networks (MCNs) such as Disney’s Maker Studios play in orchestrating the growing use of this tactic. It highlights how these companies use “influencers” who are young or popular with kids to sell junk food, toys, and more. The complaint identifies highly-popular YouTube channels like EvanTubeHD, Baby Ariel, Meghan McCarthy, the Eh Bee Family, and Bratayley, each with millions of subscribers, and how they present videos of child stars unboxing toys, playing games, and enthusiastically sampling junk food. The complaint provides several examples of such videos, including one where Baby Ariel and her family sample Jelly Belly brand jelly beans as part of a game called “BeanBoozled.” In another video, on EvanTubeHD, the child influencer is seen unboxing a Lego Police Patrol Boat. Neither video indicates that it is an advertisement, and both videos can be found intermingled with non-sponsored content on YouTube Kids. Google facilitates, promotes, and solicits these videos because they are popular with children, which increases the company’s ad revenues. “It’s time for the FTC put a stop to child-directed influencer marketing,” explained CDD’s Executive Director Jeff Chester. “Companies like Google are knowingly taking advantage of children and their parents by unleashing a torrent of stealth digital ads disguised as programming supposedly suitable for kids. As the country’s leading consumer protection agency, the FTC has a mandate to protect the public—including our children—from practices we know are both unfair and deceptive.” “Parents have no idea that the adorable ‘friends’ their children like to watch unbox toys are really stealth marketers,” said CCFC’s Executive Director Josh Golin. “It’s time for the FTC to take swift and decisive action and protect children from a practice that has long been prohibited on children’s television.” “Corporate predators are using young Internet influencers, admired by kids, to hawk their wares to children, even to young children,” explained President of Public Citizen, Rob Weissman. “The marketers and the advertising platforms enabling and promoting this activity should be ashamed. But since they’re not, we need the FTC to act to end their outrageous practice.” CCFC and CDD have also previously filed complaints with the FTC concerning child-directed marketing practices on YouTube Kids and YouTube. Todays’ complaint can be found at: (link is external)
  • Blog

    need-to-know 1076

    Programmatic Applied to Kids Market; Not Truly "COPPA Friendly"

    Announcing REX: the world’s first kid-safe programmatic exchange Today (link is external)marks a major milestone in the kids digital media industry. We’re extremely pleased to announce the launch of REX, the world’s first kid-safe, COPPA-compliant programmatic exchange. COPPA and GDPR forbid profile or cookie-based targeting which has, until now, removed all programmatic options (and hence automation) from the kids industry. Part of AwesomeAds (our kid-safe ad server) REX guarantees that all automated ad requests are 100% kid-safe and COPPA/GDPR compliant. For the first time ever, REX makes it possible for advertisers across the world to programmatically reach the kids audience in a fully compliant, 100% kid-safe way. The kids space hasn’t had this capability (in any compliant sense) until now. REX genuinely shifts the entire industry forward. How does it work? At this point, our engineering team (about a third of the company) is probably the most experienced technical team in the global digital kids’ sector. This was a pretty helpful starting point. REX acts as a comprehensive kid-safety filter; it removes all non-compliant elements from each ad tag to ensure nothing can track users, before placing every creative through our ad content review process. Only then is it served through our COPPA-certified AwesomeAds platform, earning our SAFE AD watermark. Explained by our Chief Product Officer, Joshua Wohle: “REX inserts itself between the publisher and the exchange, taking the role of a firewall. It inspects the requests going out, stripping it from any PII before sending it through to the exchange. The exchange then considers the request and buyers can start bidding on the inventory. Once the winning bid is returned to the publisher, REX again intercepts it and removes any trackers that could be collecting PII before sending it on to the publisher. All of this happens in real-time, allowing for a full programmatic flow whilst ensuring compliance to all parties involved.” In order to bring this unique offering to the kids industry, we’re working alongside Rubicon, one of the biggest programmatic exchanges in the world. They provide real-time bidding and integration with all buyer systems across the globe. Combining our infrastructure in kid-safe technology and our exclusive kids inventory with their real-time bidding architecture, we are able to open up programmatic to the world’s biggest trading desks and DSPs across the kids market.
  • Set-top Box market should be open, but consumers and privacy protected, CDD tells FCC

    Calls for Safeguards for sensitive data, including protecting youth, seniors, and use of ethnic/racial information in FCC"s Navigational Device Proceeding

    The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), which works to empower and protect consumers in the digital marketplace, endorses the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) important proposal to provide both choice and competition in the provision of navigational devices for video and related content. CDD strongly believes that the FCC should proceed with its plan to allow third parties to build and sell navigational devices. We support giving these developers/providers access to the information proposed in the NPRM, including Service Discovery, Entitlement, and Content Delivery data. For decades, a handful of powerful cable—and now also telephone—companies have held a monopoly over the design, availability, and use of set-top boxes. This has resulted in greater costs to subscribers, including an especially unfair burden on low- or limited-income consumers. The set-top stranglehold has impaired competition and programming diversity, and has undermined consumer privacy. --- Full PDF of filing attached.
  • Advocates To FTC: Stop Google’s Deceptive and Unfair Practices on YouTube Kids

    New Complaints Also Urge Investigation of 17 Food and Beverage Companies For Violating Pledges Not to Target Junk Food to Children

    Washington, DC–Tuesday, November 24, 2015 –Two leading child advocacy groups filed new complaints today at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), urging the Commission to stop Google from engaging in unfair and deceptive practices toward children on its YouTube Kids app for kids five and younger. In two related FTC filings submitted today, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) also called on the FTC to broaden its investigation of YouTube Kids to include Google’s relationships with multichannel video programmers; food, beverage and toy companies; its major YouTube advertising and “unboxing” video partners; and companies that specialize in “influencer” and product placement marketing on YouTube.“Our new complaints underscore why the FTC needs to stop Google from engaging in what are nothing less than harmful, unethical, and irresponsible practices that target America’s youngest children,” explained Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “The Commission now has ample evidence that Google’s actions are unfair and deceptive and violate Section 5 of the FTC Act. We call on Chairwoman Ramirez and the other Commissioners to complete their investigation and commence legal action against Google so that children and their parents will be protected when they use YouTube Kids.”In one of the complaints (link is external) filed today, CCFC and CDD urge the Commission to hold 17 food and beverage manufacturers accountable for violating the self-regulatory pledges they made as members of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). A review of YouTube Kids by CCFC and CDD found hundreds of commercials and promotional videos for products these companies had publicly pledged not to market to children under the age of 12. For example, even though the Coca-Cola Company has pledged to not market any beverages to children under 12, CCFC and CDD found 47 television commercials and 11 longer promotional videos for Coke and Coke Zero on YouTube Kids. Similarly, Mondelez International has pledged not to market Oreos to children, but CCFC and CDD found 31 TV commercials and 21 product placements for Oreos on YouTube Kids. In one 11-minute video, the YouTube star Evan of “EvanTubeHD” and his sister compete to identify 12 different flavors of Oreos. [Evan HD is distributed by the Walt Disney Company’s Maker Studios division].“Far from being a safe place for kids to explore, YouTube Kids is awash with food and beverage marketing that you won’t find on other media platforms for young children,” said CCFC’s Josh Golin. “The Commission should investigate why Google’s algorithms aren’t configured to keep junk food marketing off of YouTube Kids, and hold food and beverage companies accountable for violating their pledges not to target their most unhealthy products to children.” “Food companies and Google have teamed up for an end run around America's parents,” said Dale Kunkel, Professor of Communication at University of Arizona. “YouTube Kids delivers hundreds of junk food video promotions while Google claims it allows no food advertising on the app, and food companies promise the FTC they won't advertise products like Snickers and Oreos to children. It’s hard to believe this is all happening in broad daylight.”The second FTC complaint (link is external) filed today significantly expands upon the groups’ initial complaint filed on April 7, 2015 (link is external). It documents that many videos on YouTube Kids appear to result from relationships and payments between advertisers, YouTube creators, and various intermediaries, including multichannel video programmers and advertising agencies that specialize in “influencer” marketing. Because these relationships are not disclosed on YouTube Kids as required by the FTC’s Endorsement Guide, CCFC and CDD call on the FTC to investigate the contractual and other business connections between Google and its YouTube commercial partners and affiliates.The second complaint also explains how changes made by Google to YouTube Kids do not alleviate the problems raised in the original complaint—that YouTube Kids targets children with deceptive and unfair advertisements, and Google markets YouTube Kids to parents in a deceptive manner. “When Google launched YouTube Kids in February, it falsely told parents that ‘all advertisements in the YouTube Kids app must comply’ with its Ad Policy prohibiting ads for certain products, including food and beverages,” said Professor Angela Campbell of Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Representation, counsel for CCFC and CDD. “Instead of enforcing its Ad Policy, Google changed its policy so that it does not apply to traditional TV commercials or longer promotional videos. This is a major disservice to children and parents alike.”----See complaints attached.