PIRG joined a group FTC filing today urging the agency to ban unfair manipulation of kids online. Video games and social media network platforms regularly use attention-hacking techniques on children and teens to get them to stay online longer.
Online platforms often seek to shape the behavior of its users, and platforms made for kids are no exception. User-engagement techniques – like lock screen notifications to urge users to log back on and content recommendation algorithms designed to keep users online longer – are particularly harmful for kids.
Video games are also often riddled with ads that are easy for kids to accidentally tap on, and encourages players to buy virtual accessories using very real money. Others use unpredictable rewards to keep children online – a technique used by slot machines. Many of these games are funded with an advertising revenue model, making it profitable for companies to addict kids to their services, so they’ll stay on longer, view more ads, and potentially have more data collected about them that may shape the content they’re viewing.
The petition, led by the children’s advocacy groups Fairplay and Center for Digital Democracy, asks the FTC to establish rules of the road about addictive features to protect kids online. The New York Times covered the petition efforts today.
Earlier this year, California passed the Age Appropriate Design Code Act that requires online platforms to think about the impact their design will have on kids before launching their products. The law was the first successful effort by state government to tackle the problem of addictive design that’s harming children.