Android apps targeted at children under five have been called out for their use of ‘unfair and deceptive’ advertising by campaigners.
A coalition of 20 charities, including UK-based Childnet, are backing calls for an official investigation into manipulative, inappropriate and deceptive in-app ads after researchers at the University of Michigan drew attention to the practice following a review of 135 Google Play apps.
The study found that of that number, 85 were classed as ‘free’ but carried some form of advertising while 88% of the remaining 50 paid for apps also incorporated advertising.
Among the more egregious examples uncovered were banner ads for bipolar disorder treatments, depictions of characters crying when paid for items were not unlocked and interruptions from pop-up ads.
Other concerns centred on so-called ‘camouflaged’ items such as cakes Disney’s Olaf Adventures, which transport players direct to a store without warning while Edbuzzkids’ Sight Words manipulated p[layers into clicking on ads by displaying cartoon guiding hands over the banner displays.
Report author Jenny Radesky commented: “Our findings show that the early childhood app market is a wild west, with a lot of apps appearing more focused on making money than the child's play experience.
"I'm concerned about digital disparities as children from lower-income families are more likely to play free apps, which are packed with more distracting and persuasive ads."
Responding to the accusations Google insists that it applies ‘stringent requirements’ for apps aimed at children, adding: “Google Play discloses whether an app has advertising or in-app purchases, so parents can make informed decisions.”