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Apps marketed at young children have a major ad problem

The Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition is a tablet designed for kids. (Image via Amazon)
The Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition is a tablet designed for kids. (Image via Amazon)
In a recent study concerning children and media consumption, researchers discovered that the majority of apps targeted at children 5 years of age and younger contained advertising. Some of these ads were not clearly marked, were difficult to close, or contained disturbing imagery. Additionally, some of the ads pushed the user to make purchases, a clear violation of the FTC's rules regarding ads used in children's media.

Advertising is everywhere. There’s almost no avoiding it; whether listening to music, browsing the internet, or even walking down the road, we are constantly bombarded with ads. While it’s not unusual to see ads littered throughout the apps we use every day, it’s particularly disturbing when ads permeate apps specifically designed for some of the most vulnerable members of society: children.

Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician that wrote with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines for children’s use of media, discovered that a multitude of apps marketed for kids under the age of six contained a plethora of advertising, some with “disturbing imagery.” The New York Times reports that a new study released by Radesky, which examined 135 different children’s games available through the Google Play Store, found 95% of the studied apps contained at least one type of advertising.

While this would be fine for most apps, considering that these apps specifically target children aged 5 and under, the ads contained within may violate the FTC’s 1974 rules concerning host-selling. Some of the ads could be considered to “gently pressure the kids to make purchases.” For instance, one app (Doctor Kids by publisher Bubadu) shows a character crying if the user navigates away from the in-app store without purchasing anything. Another game, based on the Russian animated series “Masha and the Bear,” had an ad showing a “creepy cartoon version of Donald Trump trying to resist pressing a big red nuke button.”

Responding to the study, a Google spokesperson said that these ads should be ok so long as they don’t directly collect information from users under the age of 13:

“Apps primarily directed to children must participate in our Designed for Families Program and must follow more stringent requirements, including content and ad restrictions. [The Google Play Store] discloses whether an app has advertising or in-app purchases, so parents can make informed decisions.”

As with most things cyber-security related, the best defense is a good offense. If you have children that regularly use a mobile device, you should have full knowledge and understanding of the apps they use. Both Android and iOS have fairly deep parental controls, but the best way to protect your children in the digital age is to be involved and know what they are looking at.


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> Expert Reviews and News on Laptops, Smartphones and Tech Innovations > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2018 10 > Apps marketed at young children have a major ad problem
Sam Medley, 2018-10-30 (Update: 2018-10-30)