program areas Digital Youth

  • A coalition of more than 100 organizations is sending two letters to Congress urging action. A letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, from 145 organizations, urges them to advance KOSA and COPPA to full Senate votes. A letter addressed to House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone and Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, from 158 organizations, urges them to introduce a House companion bill to KOSA. The advocates state in the letter to the Senate: “The enormity of the youth mental health crisis needs to be addressed as the very real harms of social media are impacting our children today. Taken together, the Kids Online Safety Act and the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act would prevent online platforms from exploiting young users’ developmental vulnerabilities and targeting them in unfair and harmful ways.” kosa_coppa_senate_leadership_letter_final_9.12.22-1.pdf, eandc_leadership_kosa_letter_final_9.12.22-1.pdf, kosa_coppa_rally_press_release_embargo_to_9_13.pdf
    person using smartphone by Priscilla Du Preez
  • Press Statement regarding today’s FTC Notice(link is external) of Proposed Rulemaking Regarding the Commercial Surveillance and Data SecurityKatharina Kopp, Deputy Director, Center for Digital Democracy:Today, the Federal Trade Commission issued its long overdue advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) regarding a trade regulation rule on commercial surveillance and data security. The ANPRM aims to address the prevalent and increasingly unavoidable harms of commercial surveillance. Civil society groups including civil rights groups, privacy and digital rights and children’s advocates had previously called on the commission to initiate this trade regulation rule to address the decades long failings of the commission to reign in predatory corporate practices online. CDD had called on the commission repeatedly over the last two decades to address the out-of-control surveillance advertising apparatus that is the root cause of increasingly unfair, manipulative, and discriminatory practices harming children, teens, and adults and which have a particularly negative impact on equal opportunity and equity.The Center for Digital Democracy welcomes this important initial step by the commission and looks forward to working with the FTC. CDD urges the commission to move forward expeditiously with the rule making and to ensure fair participation of stakeholders, particularly those that are disproportionately harmed by commercial surveillance.press_statement_8-11fin.pdf
  • CDD Comments to FTC for "Stealth" Marketing Inquiry The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) urges the FTC to develop and implement a set of policies designed to protect minors under 18 from being subjected to a host of pervasive, sophisticated and data-driven digital marketing practices. Children and teens are targeted by an integrated set of online marketing operations that are manipulative, unfair, invasive and can be especially harmful to their mental and physical health. The commission should make abundantly clear at the forthcoming October workshop that it understands that the many problems generated by contemporary digital marketing to youth transcend narrow categories such as “stealth advertising” and “blurred content.” Nor should it propose “disclosures” as a serious remedy, given the ways advertising is designed using data science, biometrics, social relationships and other tactics. Much of today’s commercially supported online system is purposefully developed to operate as “stealth”—from product development, to deployment, to targeting, tracking and measurement. Age-based cognitive development capacities to deal with advertising, largely based on pre-digital (especially TV) research, simply don’t correspond to the methods used today to market to young people. CDD calls on the commission to acknowledge that children and teenagers have been swept into a far reaching commercial surveillance apparatus.The commission should propose a range of safeguards to protect young people from the current “wild west” of omnichannel directed at them. These safeguards should address, for example, the role market research and testing of child and teen-directed commercial applications and messaging play in the development of advertising; how neuromarketing[pdf] practices designed to leverage a young person’s emotions and subconscious are used to deliver “implicit persuasion”; the integration by marketers and platforms of “immersive” applications, including augmented and virtual reality, designed to imprint brand and other commercial messages; the array of influencer-based strategies, including the extensive infrastructure used by platforms and advertisers to deliver, track and measure their impact; the integration of online marketing with Internet of Things objects, including product packaging and the role of QR codes, (experiential marketing) and digital out-of-the-home advertising screens; as well as contemporary data marketing operations that use machine learning and artificial intelligence to open up new ways for advertisers to reach young people online. AI services increasingly deliver personalized content online, further automating the advertising process to respond in real-time.It is also long overdue for the FTC to investigate and address how online marketing targets youth of color, who are subjected to a variety of advertising practices little examined by privacy and other regulators.The FTC should use all its authority and power to stop data-driven surveillance marketing to young people under 18; end the role sponsored influencers play; enact rules designed to protect the online privacy for teens 13-17 who are now subjected to ongoing tracking by marketers; and propose policies to redress the core methods employed by digital advertisers and online platforms to lure both children and teens. For more than 20 years, CDD and its allies have urged the FTC to address the ways digital marketing has undermined consumer protection and privacy, especially for children and adolescents. Since the earliest years of the commercial internet, online marketers have focused on young people, both for the revenues they deliver as well as to secure loyalty from what the commercial marketing industry referred to as “native” users. The threat to their privacy, as well as to their security and well-being, led to the complaint our predecessor organization filed in 1996, which spurred the passage of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998. COPPA has played a modest role protecting some younger children from experiencing the totality of the commercial surveillance marketing system. However, persistent failures of the commission to enforce COPPA; the lack of protections for adolescents (despite decades-long calls by advocates for the agency to act on this issue); and a risk-averse approach to addressing the methods employed by the digital advertising, even when applied to young people, have created ongoing threats to their privacy, consumer protection and public health. In this regard, we urge the commission to closely review the comments submitted in this proceeding by our colleague Fairplay and allies. We are pleased Fairplay supports these comments.If the FTC is to confront how the forces of commercial digital surveillance impact the general public, the building blocks to help do so can be found in this proceeding. Young people are exposed to the same unaccountable forces that are everywhere online: a largely invisible, ubiquitous, and machine-intelligence-driven system that tracks and assesses our every move, using an array of direct and indirect techniques to influence behaviors. If done correctly, this proceeding can help inform a larger policy blueprint for what policy safeguards are needed—for young people and for everyone else.The commission should start by reviewing how digital marketing and data-gathering advertising applications are “baked in” at the earliest stages of online content and device development. These design and testing practices have a direct impact on young people. Interactive advertising standards groups assess and certify a host of approved ad formats, including for gaming, mobile, native advertising, and streaming video. Data practices for digital advertising, including ways that ads are delivered through the behavioral/programmatic surveillance engines, as well as their measurement, are developed through collaborative work involving trade organizations and leading companies. Platforms such as Meta, as well as ad agencies, adtech companies, and brands, also have their own variations of these widely adopted formats and approaches. The industry-operated standards process for identifying new methods for digital advertising, including the real-world deployment of applications such “playable” ads or the ways advertisers can change its personalized messaging in real-time, have never been seriously investigated by the commission. A review of the companies involved show that many are engaged in digital marketing to young people.Another critical building block of contemporary digital marketing to address when dealing with youth-directed advertising is the role of “engagement.” As far back as 2006, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recognized that to effectively secure the involvement of individuals with marketing communications, at both the subconscious and conscious levels, it was necessary to define and measure the concept of engagement. IAB initially defined “Engagement… [as] turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context..” By 2012, there were more elaborate definitions identifying “three major forms of engagement… cognitive, physical and emotional.” A set of corresponding metrics, or measurement tools, were used, including those tracking “attention” (“awareness, interest, intention”); emotional and motor functioning identified through biometrics (“heart palpitations, pupil dilation, eye tracking”); and through omnipresent tracking of online behaviors (“viewability and dwell time, user initiated interaction, clicks, conversions, video play rate, game play”). Today, research and corresponding implementation strategies for engagement are an ongoing feature for the surveillance-marketing economy. This includes conducting research and implementing data-driven and other ad strategies targeting children—known as “Generation Alpha”—children 11 and younger—and teens—“Generation Z.”We will briefly highlight some crucial areas this proceeding should address:Marketing and product research on children and adolescents: An extensive system designed to ensure that commercial online content, including advertising and marketing, effectively solicits the interest and participation of young people, is a core feature of the surveillance economy. A host of companies are engaged in multi-dimensional market research, including panels, labs, platforms, streaming media companies, studios and networks, that have a direct impact on the methods used to advertise and market to youth. CDD believes that such product testing, which can rely on a range of measures designed to promote “implicit persuasion” should be considered an unfair practice generally. Since CDD and U.S. PIRG first urged the commission to investigate neuromarketing more than a decade ago, this practice has in ways that enable it to play a greater role influencing how content and advertising is delivered to young people.For example, MediaScience (which began as the Disney Media and Advertising Lab), serves major clients including Disney, Google, Warner Media, TikTok, Paramount, Fox and Mars. It conducts research for platforms and brands using such tools as “neurometrics (skin conductivity and heart rate), eye tracking, facial coding, and EEGs, among others, that assess a person’s responses across devices. Research is also conducted outside of the lab setting, such as directly through a subject’s “actual Facebook feed.” It has a panel of 80,000 households in the U.S., where it can deliver digital testing applications using a “variety of experimental designs… facilitated in the comfort of people’s homes.” The company operates a “Kids” and “Teens” media research panel. Emblematic of the far-reaching research conducted by platforms, agencies and brands, in 2021 TikTok’s “Marketing Science team” commissioned MediaScience to use neuromarketing research to test “strong brand recall and positive sentiment across various view durations.” The findings indicated that “ads on TikTok see strong brand recall regardless of view duration…. Regardless of how long an ad stays on screen, TikTok draws early attention and physiological engagement in the first few seconds.”NBCUniversal is one of the companies leveraging the growing field of “emotional analytics” to help advance advertising for streaming and other video outlets. Comcast’s NBCU is using “facial coding and eye-tracking AI to learn an audience’s emotional response to a specific ad.” Candy company Mars just won a “Best Use of Artificial Intelligence” award for its “Agile Creative Expertise (ACE) tool that “tracks attentional and emotional response to digital video ads.” Mars is partnering with neuromarketer Realeyes to “measure how audience’s attention levels respond as they view Mars' ads.Knowing what captures and retains attention or even what causes distraction, generated intelligence that enabled Mars to optimize the creative itself or the selection of the best performing ads across platforms including TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.” TikTok, Meta/Facebook, and Google have all used a variety of neuromarketing measures. The Neuromarketing Science and Business Association (NMSBA) includes many of the leading companies in this field as members. There is also an “Attention Council” within the digital marketing industry to help advance these practices, involving Microsoft, Mars, Coca-Cola, AB/InBev, and others. A commercial research infrastructure provides a steady drumbeat of insights so that marketers can better target young people on digital devices. Children’s streaming video company Wildbrain, for example, partnered with Ipsos for its 2021 research report, “The Streaming Generation,” which explained that “Generation Alpha [is] the most influential digital generation yet…. They have never known a world without digital devices at their fingertips, and for Generation Alpha (Gen A), these tech-first habits are now a defining aspect of their daily lives.” More than 2,000 U.S. parents and guardians of children 2-12 were interviewed for the study, which found that “digital advertising to Gen A influences the purchasing decisions of their parents…. Their purchasing choices, for everything from toys to the family car, are heavily influenced by the content kids are watching and the ads they see.” The report explains that among the “most popular requests” are toys, digital games, clothing, tech products and “in-game currencies” for Roblox and Fortnite.Determining the levels of “brand love” by children and teens, such as the use of “Kidfinity” and “Teenfinity” scores—“proprietary measures of brand awareness, popularity and love”—are regularly provided to advertisers. Other market researchers, such as Beano Studios, offer a “COPPA-compliant” “Beano Brain Omnibus” website that, through “games, quizzes, and bespoke questions” for children and teens, “allows bands to access answers to their burning questions.” These tools help marketers better identify, for example, the sites—such as TikTok—where young people spend time. Among the other services Beano provides, which reflect many other market-research companies’ capabilities, are “Real-time UX/UI and content testing—in the moment, digital experience exploration and evaluation of brands websites and apps with kids and teens in strawman, beta or live stages,” and “Beano at home—observing and speaking to kids in their own homes. Learning how and what content they watch.” Adtech and other data marketing applications: In order to conduct any “stealth” advertising inquiry, the FTC should review the operations of contemporary “Big Data”-driven ad systems that can impact young people. For example, Disney has an extensive and cutting-edge programmatic apparatus called DRAX(Disney Real-Time Ad Exchange) that is delivering thousands of video-based campaigns. DRAX supports “Disney Select,” a "suite of ad tech solutions, providing access to an extensive library of first-party segments that span the Disney portfolio, including streaming, entertainment and sports properties…. Continuously refined and enhanced based on the countless ways Disney connects with consumers daily. Millions of data inputs validated through data science…. Advertisers can reach their intended audiences by tapping into Disney’s proprietary Audience Graph, which unifies Disney’s first party data and audience modeling capabilities….” As of March 2022, Disney Select contained more than 1,800 “audience segments built from more than 100,000 audience attributes that fuel Disney’s audience graph.” According to Disney Advertising, its “Audience Graph” includes 100 million households, 160 million connected TV devices and 190 million device IDs, which enables modeling to target households and families. Children and teens are a core audience for Disney, and millions of their households receive its digital advertising. Many other youth-directed leading brands have developed extensive internal adtech applications designed to deliver ongoing and personalized campaigns. For example, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Mondelez have in-house capabilities and extensive partnerships that create targeted marketing to youth and others. The ways that “Big Data” analytics affect marketing, especially how insights can be used to target youth, should be reviewed. Marketers will say to the FTC that they are only targeting 18-year-olds and over, but an examination of their actual targets, and asking for child-related brand-safety data they collect, should provide the agency with a robust response to such claims.New methods to leverage a person’s informational details and then target them, especially without “cookies,” requires the FTC to address how this is being used to market to children and teens. This review should also be extended to “contextual” advertising, since that method has been transformed through the use of machine learning and other advanced tactics—called “Contextual 2.0.”Targeting youth of color: Black, Hispanic, Asian-American and other “multicultural” youth, as the ad industry has termed it, are key targets for digital advertising. An array of research, techniques, and services is focused on these young people, whose behaviors online are closely monitored by advertisers. A recent case study to consider is the McDonald’s U.S. advertising campaign designed to reverse its “decline with multicultural youth.” The goal of its campaign involving musician Travis Scott was to “drive penetration by bringing younger, multicultural customers to the brands… and drive immediate behavior too.” As a case study explains, “To attract multicultural youth, a brand… must have cultural cachet. Traditional marketing doesn’t work with them. They don’t watch cable TV; they live online and on social media, and if you are not present there you’re out of sight, out of mind.”It’s extremely valuable to identify some of the elements involved in this case, which are emblematic of the integrated set of marketing and advertising practices that accompany so many campaigns aimed at young people. These included working with a celebrity/influencer who is able to “galvanize youth and activate pop culture”; offering “coveted content—keepsakes and experiences to fuel the star’s fanbase, driving participation and sales”; employing digital strategies through a proprietary (and data-collecting) “app to bring fans something extra and drive digital adoption”; and focusing on “affordability”—to ensure “youth with smaller wallets” would participate. To illustrate how expenditures for paid advertising are much less relevant with digital marketing, McDonald’s explains that “Before a single dollar had been spent on paid media, purely on the strength of a few social posts by McDonald’s and Travis Scott, and reporting in the press, youth were turning up at restaurants across the country, asking for the Travis Scott meal.” This campaign was a significant financial success for McDonald’s. Its partnership with this influencer was effective as well in terms of “cultural response: hundreds of thousands of social media mentions and posts, fan-art and memes, unboxing videos of the meal…, fans selling food and stolen POS posters on eBay…, the multi merch drops that sold out in seconds, the framed receipts.” Online ads targeted to America’s diverse communities of young people, who can also be a member of a group at risk (due to finances, health, and the like) have long required an FTC investigation. The commission should examine the data-privacy and marketing practices on these sites, including those that communicate via languages other than English.Video and Video Games: Each of these applications have developed an array of targeted advertising strategies to reach young people. Streaming video is now a part of the integrated surveillance-marketing system, creating a pivotal new place to reach young people, as well as generate data for further targeting. Children and teens are viewing video content on Smart TVs, other streaming devices, mobile phones, tablets as well as computers. Household data where young people reside, which is amplified through the use of a growing number of “identity” tools that permit cross-device tracking, enable an array of marketing practices to flourish. The commission should review the data-gathering, ad-formatting, and other business practices that have been identified for these “OTT” services and how they impact children and teens. There are industry-approved ad-format guidelines for digital video and Connected TV. Digital video ads can use “dynamic overlays,” “shoppable and actionable video,” “voice-integrated video ads,” “sequential CTV creative,” and “creative extensions,” for example. Such ad formats and preferred practices are generally not vetted in terms of how they impact the interests of young people.Advertisers have strategically embedded themselves within the video game system, recognizing that it’s a key vantage point to surveil and entice young people. One leading quick-service restaurant chain that used video games to “reach the next generation of fast-food fans” explained that “gaming has become the primary source of entertainment for the younger generation. Whether playing video games or watching others play games on social platforms, the gaming industry has become bigger than the sports and music industries combined. And lockdowns during the global pandemic accelerated the trend. Gaming is a vital part of youth culture.” Illustrating that marketers understand that traditional paid advertising strategies aren’t the most effective to reach young people, the fast-food company decided to “approach gaming less like an advertising channel and more like an earned social and PR platform…. [V]ideo games are designed as social experiences.” As Insider Intelligence/eMarketer reported in June 2022, “there’s an ad format for every brand” in gaming today, including interstitial ads, rewarded ads, offerwalls, programmatic in-game ads, product placement, advergames, and “loot boxes.” There is also an “in-game advertising measurement” framework, recently released for public comment by the IAB and the Media Ratings Council. This is another example where leading advertisers, including Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo and Publicis, are determining how “ads that appear within gameplay” operate. These guidelines will impact youth, as they will help determine the operations of such ad formats as “Dynamic In-Game Advertising (DIGA)—Appear inside a 3D game environment, on virtual objects such as billboards, posters, etc. and combine the customization of web banners where ads rotate throughout the play session”; and “Hardcoded In-Game Ad Objects: Ads that have not been served by an ad server and can include custom 3D objects or static banners. These ads are planned and integrated into a video game during its design and development stage.” Leading advertising platforms such as Amazon sell as a package video ads reaching both streaming TV and gaming audiences. The role of gaming and streaming should be a major focus in October, as well as in any commission follow-up report.Influencers: What was once largely celebrity-based or word-of mouth style endorsements has evolved into a complex system including “nano-influencers (between 1,000 and 10,000 followers); micro-influencers (between 10,000 and 100,000); macro-influencers (between 100,000 and a million); and mega or celebrity influencers (1 million-plus followers). According to a recent report in the Journal of Advertising Research, “75 percent of marketers are now including social-media influencers in their marketing plans, with a worldwide market size of $2.3 billion in 2020.” Influencer marketing is also connected to social media marketing generally, where advertisers and others have long relied on a host of surveillance-related systems to “listen,” analyze and respond to people’s social online communications.Today, a generation of “content creators” (aka influencers) is lured into becoming part of the integrated digital sales force that sells to young people and others. From “unboxing videos” and “virtual product placement” in popular content, to “kidfluencers” like Ryan’s World and “brand ambassadors” lurking in video games, to favorite TikTok creators pushing fast-food, this form of digital “payola” is endemic online.Take Ryan’s World. Leveraging “more than one billion views” on YouTube, as well as a Nickelodeon show, has “catapulted him... to a global multi-category force,” notes his production and licensing firm. The deals include a “preschool product line in multiple categories, “best in class partnerships, and a “Tag with Ryan” app that garnered 16 million downloads. Brands seeking help selling products, says Ryan’s media agency, “can connect with its kid fanbase of millions that leverages our world-class portfolio of kid-star partners to authentically and seamlessly connect your brand with Generation Alpha across YouTube, social media, mobile games, and OTT channels—everywhere kids tune in!... a Generation Alpha focused agency that delivers more than 8 BILLION views and 100 MILLION unique viewers every month!” (its emphasis). Also available is a “custom content and integrations” feature that can “create unique brand experiences with top-tier kid stars.” Ryan’s success is not unique, as more and more marketers create platforms and content, as well as merge companies, to deliver ads and marketing to children and teens. An array of influencer marketing platforms that offer “one-stop” shopping for brands to employ influencers, including through the use of programmatic marketing-like data practices (to hire people to place endorsements, for example) is a core feature of the influencer economy. There are also software programs so brands and marketers can automate their social influencer operations, as well as social media “dashboards” that help track and analyze social online conversations, brand mentions and other communications. The impact of influencers is being measured through a variety of services, including neuromarketing. Influencers are playing a key role in “social commerce,” where they promote the real-time sales of products and services on “shoppable media.” U.S. social commerce sales are predicted to grow to almost $80 billion in 2025 from its 2022 estimated total of $45.74 billion. Google, Meta, TikTok, Amazon/Twitch and Snapchat all have significant influencer marketing operations. As Meta/Facebook recently documented, there is also a growing role for “virtual” influencers that are unleashed to promote products and services. While there may be claims that many promotions and endorsements should be classified as “user generated content” (UGC), we believe the commission will find that the myriad influencer marketing techniques often play a role spurring such product promotion.The “Metaverse”: The same forces of digital marketing that have shaped today’s online experience for young people are already at work organizing the structure of the “metaverse.” There are virtual brand placements, advertisements, and industry initiatives on ad formats and marketing experiences. Building on work done for gaming and esports, this rapidly emerging marketing environment poses additional threats to young people and requires timely commission intervention.Global Standards: Young people in the U.S. have fewer protections than they do in other countries and regions, including the European Union and the United Kingdom. In the EU, for example, protections are required for young people until they are 18 years of age. The impact of the GDPR, the UK’s Design Code, the forthcoming Digital Services Act (and even some self-regulatory EU initiatives by companies such as Google) should be assessed. In what ways do U.S.-based platforms and companies provider higher or more thorough safeguards for children when they are required to do so outside of this country? The FTC has a unique role to ensure that U.S. companies operating online are in the forefront—not in the rear—of protecting the privacy and interests of children.The October Workshop: Our review of the youth marketing landscape is just a partial snapshot of the marketplace. We have not discussed “apps” and mobile devices, which pose many concerns, including those related to location, for example. But CDD hopes this comment will help inform the commission about the operations of contemporary marketing and its relationship to young people. We call on the FTC to ensure that this October, we are presented with an informed and candid discussion of the nature and impact of today’s marketing system on America’s youth.ftcyouthmarketing071822.pdf
    Jeff Chester
  • Groups say FIFA: Ultimate Team preys on children’s vulnerability with loot boxes, “funny money" Contact:David Monahan, Fairplay david@fairplayforkids.orgJeff Chester, CDD; 202-494-7100Advocates call on FTC to investigate manipulative design abuses in popular FIFA gameGroups say FIFA: Ultimate Team preys on children’s vulnerability with loot boxes, “funny money”BOSTON and WASHINGTON, DC – Thursday, June 2, 2022 – Today, advocacy groups Fairplay and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) led a coalition of 15 advocacy groups in calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate video game company Electronic Arts (EA) for unfairly exploiting young users in EA’s massively popular game, FIFA: Ultimate Team. In a letter sent to the FTC, the advocates described how the use of loot boxes and virtual currency in FIFA: Ultimate Team exploits the many children who play the game, especially given their undeveloped financial literacy skills and poor understanding of the odds of receiving the most desirable loot box items.Citing the Norwegian Consumer Council’s recent report, Insert Coin: How the Gaming Industry Exploits Consumers Using Lootboxes, the advocates’ letter details how FIFA: Ultimate Team encourages gamers to engage in a constant stream of microtransactions as they play the game. Users are able to buy FIFA points, a virtual in-game currency, which can then be used to purchase loot boxes called FIFA packs containing mystery team kits; badges; and player cards for soccer players who can be added to a gamer’s team. In their letter, the advocates noted the game’s use of manipulative design abuses such as “lightning round” sales of premium packs to promote the purchase of FIFA packs, which children are particularly vulnerable to. The advocates also cite the use of virtual currency in the game, which obscures the actual cost of FIFA packs to adult users, let alone children. Additionally, the actual probability of unlocking the best loot box prizes in FIFA: Ultimate Team is practically inscrutable to anyone who is not an expert in statistics, according to the advocates and the NCC report. In order to unlock a specific desirable player in the game, users would have to pay around $14,000 or spend three years continuously playing the game. “By relentlessly marketing pay-to-win loot boxes, EA is exploiting children’s desire to compete with their friends, despite the fact that most adults, let alone kids, could not determine their odds of receiving a highly coveted card or what cards cost in real money. The FTC must use its power to investigate these design abuses and determine just how many kids and teens are being fleeced by EA.” Josh Golin, Executive Director, Fairplay“Lootboxes, virtual currencies, and other gaming features are often designed deceptively, aiming to exploit players’ known vulnerabilities. Due to their unique developmental needs, children and teens are particularly harmed. Their time and attention is stolen from them, they're financially exploited, and are purposely socialized to adopt gambling-like behaviors. Online gaming is a key online space where children and teens gather in millions, and regulators must act to protect them from these harmful practices.” Katharina Kopp, Deputy Director, Center for Digital Democracy“As illustrated in our report, FIFA: Ultimate Team uses aggressive in-game marketing and exploits gamers’ cognitive biases - adults and children alike - to manipulate them into spending large sums of money. Children especially are vulnerable to EA’s distortion of real-world value of its loot boxes and the complex, misleading probabilities given to describe the odds of receiving top prizes. We join our US partners in urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate these troubling practices.” Finn LĂźtzow-Holm Myrstad, Digital Policy Director, Norwegian Consumer Council"The greed of these video game companies is a key reason why we're seeing a new epidemic of child gambling in our families. Thanks to this report, the FTC has more than enough facts to take decisive action to protect our kids from these predatory business practices." Les Bernal, National Director of Stop Predatory Gambling and the Campaign for Gambling-Free Kids“Exploiting consumers, especially children, by manipulating them into buying loot boxes that, in reality, rarely contain the coveted items they are seeking, is a deceptive marketing practice that causes real harm and needs to stop. strongly urges the FTC to take action.” Laura Smith, Legal Director at TINA.orgAdvocacy groups signing today's FTC complaint include Fairplay; the Center for Digital Democracy; Campaign for Accountability; Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development; Common Sense Media; Consumer Federation of America; Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC); Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, Inc.; Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health; National Council on Problem Gambling; Parent Coalition for Student Privacy; Public Citizen; Stop Predatory Gambling and the Campaign for Gambling-Free Kids; (Truth in Advertising, Inc.); U.S. PIRG### lootboxletter_pr.pdf, lootboxletterfull.pdf
  • Press Statement regarding today’s FTC Policy Statement on Education Technology and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection ActJeff Chester, Executive Director, Center for Digital Democracy:Today, the Federal Trade Commission adopts a long overdue policy designed to protect children’s privacy. By shielding school children from the pervasive forces of commercial surveillance, which gathers their data for ads and marketing, the FTC is expressly using a critical safeguard from the bipartisan Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Fairplay, Center for Digital Democracy, and a coalition of privacy, children’s health, civil and consumer rights groups had previously called on the commission to enact policies that make this very Edtech safeguard possible.   We look forward to working with the FTC to ensure that parents can be confident that their child’s online privacy and security is protected in—or out of-the classroom.  However, the Commission must also ensure that adolescents receive protections from what is now an omniscient and manipulative data-driven complex that profoundly threatens their privacy and well-being.
    boy in red hoodie wearing black headphones by Compare Fibre
  • 60 leading advocacy organizations say unregulated Big Tech business model is “fundamentally at odds with children’s wellbeing”Contact:David Monahan, Fairplay sends e-mail)Jeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy, sends e-mail), 202-494-7100Diverse coalition of advocates urges Congress to pass legislation to protect kids and teens online60 leading advocacy organizations say unregulated Big Tech business model is “fundamentally at odds with children’s wellbeing”BOSTON, MA and WASHINGTON, DC - March 22, 2022 – Congressional leaders in the House and Senate were urged today to enact much needed protections for children and teens online. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a broad coalition of health, safety, privacy and education groups said it was time to ensure that Big Tech can no longer undermine the wellbeing of America’s youth. The letter reiterated President Biden’s State of the Union address call for increased online protections for young people.In their letter, the advocates outlined how the prevailing business model of Big Tech creates a number of serious risks facing young people on the internet today, including mental health struggles, loss of privacy, manipulation, predation, and cyberbullying. The advocates underscored the dangers posed by rampant data collection on popular platforms, including algorithmic discrimination and targeting children at particularly vulnerable moments.  The reforms called for by the advocates include:Protections for children and teens wherever they are online, not just on “child-directed” sites;Privacy protections to all minors;A ban on targeted advertising to young people;Prohibition of algorithmic discrimination of children and teens;Establishment of a duty of care that requires digital service providers to make the best interests of children a primary design consideration and prevent and mitigate harms to minors;Requiring platforms to turn on the most protective settings for minors by default;Greater resources for enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission.United by the desire to see Big Tech’s harmful business model regulated, the advocates’ letter represents a landmark moment for the movement to increase privacy protections for children and teenagers online, especially due to the wide-ranging fields and focus areas represented by signatories. Among the 60 signatories to the advocates’ letter are: Fairplay, Center for Digital Democracy, Accountable Tech, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychological Association, Center for Humane Technology, Common Sense, Darkness to Light, ECPAT-USA, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), National Alliance to Advance Adolescent Health, National Center on Sexual Exploitation, National Eating Disorders Association, Network for Public Education, ParentsTogether, Public Citizen, Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, and Exposure Labs, creators of The Social Dilemma.Signatories on the need for legislation to protect young people online:“Congress last passed legislation to protect children online 24 years ago – nearly a decade before the most popular social media platforms even existed. Big Tech's unregulated business model has led to a race to the bottom to collect data and maximize profits, no matter the harm to young people. We agree with the president that the time is now to update COPPA, expand privacy protections to teens, and put an end to the design abuses that manipulate young people into spending too much time online and expose them to harmful content.” – Josh Golin, Executive Director, Fairplay.“It’s long past time for Congress to put a check on Big Tech’s pervasive manipulation of young people’s attention and exploitation of their personal data. We applaud President Biden’s call to ban surveillance advertising targeting young people and are heartened by the momentum to rein in Big Tech and establish critical safeguards for minors engaging with their products.” – Nicole Gill, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Accountable Tech.“Digital technology plays an outsized role in the lives of today’s children and adolescents, exacerbated by the dramatic changes to daily life experienced during the pandemic. Pediatricians see the impact of these platforms on our patients and recognize the growing alarm about the role of digital platforms, in particular social media, in contributing to the youth mental health crisis. It has become clear that, from infancy through the teen years, children’s well-being is an afterthought in developing digital technologies. Strengthening privacy, design, and safety protections for children and adolescents online is one of many needed steps to create healthier environments that are more supportive of their mental health and well-being.”– Moira Szilagyi, MD, PhD, FAAP, President, American Academy of Pediatrics.“Children and teens are at the epicenter of a pervasive data-driven marketing system that takes advantage of their inherent developmental vulnerabilities. We agree with President Biden: now is the time for Congress to act and enact safeguards that protect children and teens.  It’s also long overdue for Congress to enact comprehensive legislation that protects parents and other adults from unfair, manipulative, discriminatory and privacy invasive commercial surveillance practices.”  – Katharina Kopp, Ph.D. Policy Director, Center for Digital Democracy."President Biden's powerful State of the Union plea to Congress to hold social media platforms accountable for the ‘national experiment’ they're conducting on our kids and teens could not be more important. It is clear that young people are being harmed by these platforms that continue to prioritize profits over the wellbeing of its youngest users. Children and teens' mental health is at stake. Congress and the Administration must act now to pass legislation to protect children’s and teens' privacy and well-being online." – Jim Steyer, Founder and CEO, Common Sense.“Online protections for children are woefully outdated and it's clear tech companies are more interested in profiting off of vulnerable children than taking steps to prevent them from getting hurt on their platforms. American kids are facing a mental health crisis partly fueled by social media and parents are unable to go it alone against these billion dollar companies. We need Congress to update COPPA, end predatory data collection on children, and regulate design practices that are contributing to social media addiction, mental health disorders, and even death.”– Justin Ruben, Co-Founder and Co-Director, ParentsTogether."A business model built on extracting our attention at the cost of our well being is bad for everyone, but especially bad for children. No one knows this better than young people themselves, many of whom write to us daily about the ways in which Big Social is degrading their mental health. Left unregulated, Big Social will put profits over people every time. It's time to put our kids first. We urge Congress to act swiftly and enact reforms like strengthening privacy, banning surveillance advertising, and ending algorithmic discrimination for kids so we can begin to build a digital world that supports, rather than demotes child wellbeing." – Julia Hoppock, Partnerships Director, The Social Dilemma, Exposure Labs.# # #press_release_letter_to_congress_updated_embargo_to_3_22.pdf, letter_to_congress_re_children_online_3_22_22.pdf
  • CDD and Advocates Call on the FTC to Begin Rulemaking to Prohibit Surveillance AdvertisingJanuary 26, 2022Federal Trade CommissionOffice of the Secretary600 Pennsylvania Avenue NWWashington, DC 20580Re: Comment on Petition for Rulemaking by Accountable Tech, FTC-2021-0070  INTRODUCTIONCenter for Digital Democracy, Common Sense, Fairplay, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and ParentsTogether strongly support the Petition for Rulemaking to Prohibit Surveillance Advertising filed by Accountable Tech1. We agree that this action is necessary to stop the exploitation of children and teens2.Surveillance advertising, also known as behavioral or targeted advertising, has become the standard business model for a wide array of online platforms with companies utilizing this practice to micro-target all consumers, including children and teens. Surveillance advertising involves the collection of vast amounts of personal data of online users, their demographics, behaviors, preferences, characteristics, and the production of inferences. To create detailed advertising profiles from this data, users are  tracked across websites and devices; they are classified, sorted, and even discriminated against via targeting and exclusion; and ultimately are left vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation.Young people are especially susceptible to the risks posed by surveillance advertising, which is why leading public health advocates like the American Academy of Pediatrics have called for a ban on surveillance advertising to children under 18 years old3. Children’s and teens’ online experiences are shaped by the affordances of surveillance marketing, which entrap them in a complex system purposefully designed to manipulate their behaviors and emotions, while leveraging their data in the process. Young people are a significant audience for the real-time ad profiling and targeting apparatus operated through programmatic platforms and technologies, which poses fundamental risks to their privacy, safety and well-being.  Surveillance advertising is harmful to young people in several ways. First, young people are already more susceptible to advertising’s negative effects and surveillance advertising allows marketers to manipulate children and teens even more effectively. Second, surveillance advertising allows advertisers to target children’s individual vulnerabilities. Third, surveillance advertising can exacerbate inequities by allowing advertisers to target (or abstain from targeting) marginalized communities. Fourth, behavioral advertising is the driving force behind a complex system of data collection and surveillance that tracks all of children’s online activity, undermining young people’s privacy and wellbeing. Finally, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act has failed to effectively protect children under thirteen from surveillance advertising and a more expansive prohibition is needed to protect the youngest and most vulnerable users online.For these reasons, we urge the Commission to protect children and teens by prohibiting surveillance advertising.......Please read the full petition, see PDF below......____________________________________________186 Fed. Reg. 73206 (Dec. 27, 2021).2Pet’n for Rulemaking at 32-33.3Jenny Radesky, Yolanda (Linda) Reid Chassiakos, Nusheen Ameenuddin, Dipesh Navsaria, Council on Communications and Media; Digital Advertising to Children. Pediatrics July 2020; 146 (1): e20201681. 10.1542/peds.2020-1681.childrens_coalition_survadv_1-26-22.pdf
  • Groups urge Congress to stop Big Tech’s manipulation of young people BOSTON – Thursday, December 2, 2021 – Today a coalition of leading advocacy groups launched Designed With Kids in Mind, a campaign demanding a design code in the US to protect young people from online manipulation and harm. The campaign seeks to secure protections for US children and teens similar to the UK’s groundbreaking Age-Appropriate Design Code (AADC), which went into effect earlier this year. The campaign brings together leading advocates for child development, privacy, and a healthier digital media environment, including Fairplay, Accountable Tech, American Academy of Pediatrics, Center for Digital Democracy, Center for Humane Technology, Common Sense, ParentsTogether, RAINN, and Exposure Labs, creators of The Social Dilemma. The coalition will advocate for legislation and new Federal Trade Commission rules that protect children and teens from a business model that puts young people at risk by prioritizing data collection and engagement.The coalition has launched a website that explains how many of the most pressing problems faced by young people online are directly linked to platform’s design choices. They cite features that benefit platforms at the expense of young people’s wellbeing, such as: Autoplay: increases time on platforms, and excessive time on screens is linked to mental health challenges, physical risks like less sleep, and promotes family conflict.Algorithmic recommendations: risks exposure to self-harm, racist content, pornography, and mis/disinformation.Location tracking: makes it easier for strangers to track and contact children.Nudges to share: leads to loss of privacy, risks of sexual predation and identity theft.The coalition is promoting three bills which would represent a big step forward in protecting US children and teens online: the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act S.1628; the Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act S. 2918; and the Protecting the Information of our Vulnerable Children and Youth (PRIVCY) Act H.R. 4801. Taken together, these bills would expand privacy protections to teens for the first time and incorporate key elements of the UK’s AADC, such as requiring the best interest of children to be a primary design consideration for services likely to be accessed by young people. The legislation backed by the coalition would also protect children and teens from manipulative design features and harmful data processing. Members of the coalition on the urgent need for a US Design Code to protect children and teens:Josh Golin, Executive Director, Fairplay:We need an internet that helps children learn, connect, and play without exploiting their developmental vulnerabilities; respects their need for privacy and safety; helps young children disconnect at the appropriate time rather than manipulating them into spending even more time online; and prioritizes surfacing high-quality content instead of maximizing engagement. The UK’s Age-Appropriate Design Code took an important step towards creating that internet, and children and teens in the US deserve the same protections and opportunities. It’s time for Congress and regulators to insist that children come before Big Tech’s profits.Nicole Gill, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Accountable Tech:You would never put your child in a car seat that wasn't designed for them and met all safety standards, but that's what we do every day when our children go online using a network of apps and websites that were never designed with them in mind. Our children should be free to learn, play, and connect online without manipulative platforms like Facebook and Google's YouTube influencing their every choice. We need an age appropriate design code that puts kids and families first and protects young people from the exploitative practices and the perverse incentives of social media.Lee Savio Beers, MD, FAAP, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics:The American Academy of Pediatrics is proud to join this effort to ensure digital spaces are safe for children and supportive of their healthy development. It is in our power to create a digital ecosystem that works better for children and families; legislative change to protect children is long overdue. We must be bold in our thinking and ensure that government action on technology addresses the most concerning industry practices while preserving the positive aspects of technology for young people.Jeff Chester, Executive Director, Center for Digital Democracy:The “Big Tech” companies have long treated young people as just a means to generate vast profits – creating apps, videos and games designed to hook them to an online world designed to surveil and manipulate them. It’s time to stop children and teens from being victimized by the digital media industry. Congress and the Federal Trade Commission should adopt commonsense safeguards that ensure America’s youth reap all the benefits of the online world without having to constantly expose themselves to the risks.Randima Fernando, Executive Director, Center for Humane Technology:We need technology that respects the incredible potential – and the incredible vulnerability – of our kids' minds. And that should guide technology for adults, who can benefit from those same improvements.Irene Ly, Policy Counsel, Common Sense:This campaign acknowledges harmful features of online platforms and apps like autoplay, algorithms amplifying harmful content, and location tracking for what they are: intentional design choices. For too long, online platforms and apps have chosen to exploit children’s vulnerabilities through these manipulative design features. Common Sense has long supported designing online spaces with kids in mind, and strongly supports US rules that would finally require companies to put kids’ well-being first.Julia Hoppock, The Social Dilemma Partnerships Director, Exposure Labs:For too long, Big Social has put profits over people. It's time to put our kids first and build an online world that works for them.Dalia Hashad, Online Safety Director, ParentsTogether: From depression to bullying to sexual exploitation, tech companies knowingly expose children to unacceptable harms because it makes the platforms billions in profit. It's time to put kids first.Scott Berkowitz, President of RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network):Child exploitation has reached crisis levels, and our reliance on technology has left children increasingly vulnerable. On our hotline, we hear from children every day who have been victimized through technology. An age-appropriate design code will provide overdue safeguards for children across the U.S.launch_-_design_code_to_protect_kids_online.pdf
  • Contact: Jeff Chester, CDD ( (link sends e-mail); 202-494-7100) David Monahan, CCFC ( (link sends e-mail);) Advocates Ask FTC to Protect Youth From Manipulative “Dark Patterns” Online BOSTON, MA and WASHINGTON, DC — May 28, 2021—Two leading advocacy groups protecting children from predatory practices online filed comments today asking the FTC to create strong safeguards to ensure that internet “dark patterns” don’t undermine children’s well-being and privacy. Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) cited leading authorities on the impacts of internet use on child development in their comments prepared by the Communications & Technology Law Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center. These comments follow testimony given by representatives of both groups last month at a FTC workshop spearheaded by FTC Acting Chair Rebecca Slaughter. CCFC and CDD say tech companies are preying upon vulnerable kids, capitalizing on their fear of missing out, desire to be popular, and inability to understand the value of misleading e-currencies, as well as putting them on an endless treadmill on their digital devices. They urged the FTC to take swift and strong action to protect children from the harms of dark patterns. Key takeaways include: - A range of practices, often called “dark patterns” are pervasive in the digital marketplace, manipulate children, are deceptive and unfair and violate Section 5 of the FTC Act. They take advantage of a young person’s psycho-social development, such as the need to engage with peers. - The groups explained the ways children are vulnerable to manipulation and other harms from “dark patterns,” including that they have “immature and developing executive functioning,” which leads to impulse behaviors. - The FTC should prohibit the use of dark pattern practices in the children’s marketplace; issue guidance to companies to ensure they do not develop or deploy such applications, and include new protections under their Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) rulemaking authority to better regulate them. The commission must bring enforcement actions against the developers using child-directed dark patterns. - The FTC should prohibit the use of micro-transactions in apps serving children, including the buying of virtual currency to participate in game playing. - The FTC should adopt a definition of dark patterns to include all “nudges” designed to use a range of behavioral techniques to foster desired responses from users. The groups’ filing was in response to the FTC’s call for comments (link is external) on the use of digital “dark patterns” — deceptive and unfair user interface designs — on websites and mobile apps. Comment of Jeff Chester, executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy: “Dark Patterns” are being used in the design of child-directed services to manipulate them to spend more time and money on games and other applications, as well as give up more of their data. It’s time the FTC acted to protect young people from being unfairly treated by online companies. The commission should issue rules that prohibit the use of these stealth tactics that target kids and bring legal action against the companies promoting their use. Comment of Josh Golin, executive Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood: In their rush to monetize children, app and game developers are using dark patterns that take advantage of children’s developmental vulnerabilities. The FTC has all the tools it needs to stop unethical, harmful, and illegal conduct. Doing so would be a huge step forward towards creating a healthy media environment for children. Comment of Michael Rosenbloom, Staff Attorney & Clinical Teaching Fellow, Communications and Technology Law Clinic, Georgetown University Law Center: Software and game companies are using dark patterns to pressure children into playing more and paying more. Today, many apps and games that children play use dark patterns like arbitrary virtual currencies, encouragement from in-game characters, and ticking countdown timers, to get children to spend more time and money on microtransactions. These dark patterns harm children and violate Section 5 of the FTC Act, and we urge the FTC to act to stop these practices. ###