Are Baby Apps Deceptive?
Attorneys for an advocacy group, who wants to end marketing targeted at children, have filed federal complaints against two developers of baby apps. The charge: their educational claims are "deceptive."
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is a Boston-based organization that advocates "limiting commercial access to children" and "ending the exploitive practice of child-targeted marketing." Through its attorneys at Georgetown Law's Institute for Public Representation, the CCFC filed complaints to the United States' Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against U.S.-based Fisher-Price and Slovakia-based Open Solutions.
The CCFC alleges both companies are deceptively marketing some of their mobile apps as educational for babies. Thus the CCFC claims the companies are violating Section 5 (PDF) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices.
The CCFC expressed its grievances in an investigation request letter (PDF) to the FTC Wednesday:
Both Fisher-Price and Open Solutions claim that their mobile apps will “teach” babies skills and information before they are even old enough to take their first steps. But neither company offers any evidence to back up their claims, and not a single credible scientific study has yet shown that babies can acquire the skills these apps claim to teach by interacting with screens.
In the complaint against Fisher-Price (PDF), the CCFC lists issues with the "Laugh & Learn Apptivity" apps that are listed under the "education" category on iTunes. The organization said Fisher-Price lacks substantiation for claims that some of its apps can teach babies "first words," the alphabet, numbers, counting, shapes and colors.
Fisher-Price's parent company Mattel gave Mashable this statement from Fisher-Price's senior director of child research:
“Our toy development process begins with extensive research by our internal team of early childhood development experts to create appropriate toys for the ways children play, discover and grow," said Kathleen Alfano, who has a Ph.D in early childhood education.
"Grounded in 80 years of research and childhood development observations, we have appropriately extended these well researched play patterns into the digital space."
In the complaint against Open Solutions (PDF), the CCFC alleges the “Baby Puzzle” games, “Baby Hear & Read” games and “Baby Touch & Hear” games all claim to teach skills that include reading and spelling. The CCFC says these claims are not supported by research.
In a statement to Mashable Thursday, Open Solutions said: "We agree that screen models do not replace live models as social partners. We also don't say 'get this game and let it teach your child to read, write and talk in five languages.'
"We assume children (especially the youngest) are playing the game with parent, babysitter etc. We think we have apps that can help parents with babies, either by entertaining babies or help them to see new things, animals, hear their sounds, etc."
Open Solutions also says it had not been contacted by either the CCFC or the FTC as of Thursday afternoon.
The FTC confirmed to Mashable that it received the CCFC complaints, but did not have further comment on Thursday.
In the past, the CCFC's efforts in similar challenges have been successful: the Walt Disney Company was compelled to offer a refund for its Baby Einstein DVDs; and the FTC ruled against the producers of a video series that was supposed to help babies read.
Though the CCFC has targeted two companies in Wednesday's filings, the move was likely symbolic of their larger push against apps that make educational claims.
“Given that the baby app market is rapidly expanding, it is important that the FTC act quickly to prevent Fisher-Price, Open Solutions, and the entire baby app industry from using false marketing to hook a generation of babies on unnecessary, and potentially harmful, screen time,” the CCFC’s Director Susan Linn, said in a news release.
Parents: do you use educational apps with your kids or babies? Are you concerned about educational claims or not necessarily? Let us know in the comments.