ANDROID apps for children under five are rife with 'manipulative' and 'unfair' adverts, according to a new study published by child-health researchers.
Games such as Barbie Magical Fashion and Paw Patrol: Air and Sea Adventures often encourage their players to make in-app purchases, with young children unable to understand the difference between ads and normal content.
Published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, the research examined 135 apps designed for children aged between 12 months and five years.
95% of these apps contained adverts of one kind or another, while 30% contained in-app purchases, which were for items players could buy in order to help with their progress through games.
Most disturbingly of all, 42% of the apps featured commercially branded characters (e.g. Barbie), which were often used to encourage young players to make in-game purchases.
And as the authors write in their paper, "some app characters showed facial expressions of disappointment when the player was not successful or did not choose locked items."
The authors state that this use of fictitious characters puts "social pressure" on kids, with children under five unable to understand the difference between adverts and other media content (such as games and TV).
And aside from putting pressure on kids to make purchases, the apps covered by the research find other 'creative' ways to monetise very young children and transform them into consumers.
35% of them interrupt play to show video ads, while 17% require players to view such ads in order to obtain better items or progress further in games.
In response to such findings, 20 American non-profit organisations wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) yesterday, calling for it to take urgent action.
"We urge the Commission to immediately launch an investigation of Android apps designed for, and marketed to, young children and hold developers accountable for their practices," wrote Angela J. Campbell, of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
"As the research makes clear, these practices are unfair and deceptive to children and parents, and we urge the FTC to take appropriate and swift action."
Meanwhile, we have reached out to Google for a statement, and will update this article once comment arrives.
What games did the researchers study?
Here's a non-exhaustive list of the games covered in the research, although parents should be aware that the authors studied 135 apps in total, and that many more are likely to exist.
- LEGO Duplo Town
- Coloring Book for Hello Kitty
- Hello Kitty Lunchbox
- Barbie Magical Fashion
- Masha and The Bear Vet Clinic
- Masha and the Bear Educational Games
- Paw Patrol: Air and Sea Adventures
- Olaf's Adventures
- Panda Pop
- My Caterpillar
- Kids Animal Jigsaw Puzzle
- Rescue Bots
- Strawberry Shortcake Bake Shop
What do you think of in-app ads and purchases that target children? Let us know in the comments.