• Press Release

    Advocates demand Federal Trade Commission investigate Google for continued violations of children’s privacy law

    Following news of Google’s violations of COPPA and 2019 settlement, 4 advocates ask FTC for investigation

    Contact:Josh Golin, Fairplay: josh@fairplayforkids.orgJeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy: Advocates demand Federal Trade Commission investigate Google for continued violations of children’s privacy lawFollowing news of Google’s violations of COPPA and 2019 settlement, 4 advocates ask FTC for investigation BOSTON and WASHINGTON, DC – WEDNESDAY, August 23, 2023 – The organizations that alerted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to Google’s violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) are urging the Commission to investigate whether Google and YouTube are once again violating COPPA, as well as the companies’ 2019 settlement agreement and the FTC Act. In a Request for Investigation filed today, Fairplay and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) detail new research from Adalytics, as well as Fairplay’s own research, indicating Google serves personalized ads on “made for kids” YouTube videos and tracks viewers of those videos, even though neither is permissible under COPPA. Common Sense Media and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), joined Fairplay and CDD in calling on the Commission to investigate and sanction Google for its violations of children’s privacy. The advocates suggest that the FTC should seek penalties upwards of tens of billions of dollars. In 2018, Fairplay and Center for Digital Democracy led a coalition asking the FTC to investigate YouTube for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting personal information from children on the platform without parental consent. As a result of the advocates’ complaint, Google and YouTube were required to pay a then-record $170 million fine in a 2019 settlement with the FTC and comply with COPPA going forward. Rather than getting the required parental permission before collecting personally identifiable information from children on YouTube, Google claimed instead it would comply with COPPA by limiting data collection and eliminating personalized advertising on “made for kids.” But an explosive new report released by Adalytics last week called into question Google’s assertions and compliance with federal privacy law. The report detailed how Google appeared to be surreptitiously using cookies and identifiers to track viewers of “made for kids” videos. The report also documented how YouTube and Google appear to be serving personalized ads on “made for kids” videos and transmitting data about viewers to data brokers and ad tech companies. In response to the report, Google told the New York Times that ads on children’s videos are based on webpage content, not targeted to user profiles. But follow-up research conducted independently by both Fairplay and ad buyers suggests the ads are, in fact, personalized and Google is both violating COPPA and making deceptive statements about its targeting of children. Both Fairplay and the ad buyers ran test ad campaigns on YouTube where they selected a series of users of attributes and affinities for ad targeting and instructed Google to only run the ads on “made for kids” channels. In theory, these test campaigns should have resulted in zero placements, because under Google and YouTube’s stated policy, no personalized ads are supposed to run on “made for kids” videos. Yet, Fairplay’s targeted $10 ad campaign resulted in over 1,400 impressions on “made for kids” channels and the ad buyers reported similar results. Additionally, the reporting Google provided to Fairplay and the ad buyers to demonstrate the efficacy of the ad buys would not be possible if the ads were contextual, as Google claims. “If Google’s representations to its advertisers are accurate, it is violating COPPA,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Fairplay. “The FTC must launch an immediate and comprehensive investigation and use its subpoena authority to better understand Google’s black box child-directed ad targeting. If Google and YouTube are violating COPPA and flouting their settlement agreement with the Commission, the FTC should seek the maximum fine for every single violation of COPPA and injunctive relief befitting a repeat offender.” The advocates’ letter urges the FTC to seek robust remedies for any violations, including but not limited to: ·       Civil penalties that demonstrate that continued violations of COPPA and Section 5 of the FTC Act are unacceptable. Under current law, online operators can be fined $50,120 per violation of COPPA. Given the immense popularity of many “made for kids” videos, it is likely millions of violations have occurred, suggesting the Commission should seek civil penalties upwards of tens of billions of dollars.·       An injunction requiring relinquishment of all ill-gotten gains·       An injunction requiring disgorgement of all algorithms trained on impermissibly collected data·       A prohibition on the monetization of minors’ data·       An injunction requiring YouTube to move all “made for kids” videos to YouTube Kids and remove all such videos from the main YouTube platform. Given Google’s repeated failures to comply with COPPA on the main YouTube platform – even when operating under a consent decree – these videos should be cabined to a platform that has not been found to violate existing privacy law·       The appointment of an independent “special master” to oversee Google’s operations involving minors and provide the Commission, Congress, and the public semi-annual compliance reports for a period of at least five yearsKatharina Kopp, Deputy Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said “The FTC must fully investigate what we believe are Google’s continuous violations of COPPA, its 2019 settlement with the FTC, and Section 5 of the FTC Act. These violations place many millions of young viewers at risk. Google and its executives must be effectively sanctioned to stop its ‘repeat offender’ behaviors—including a ban on monetizing the personal data of minors, other financial penalties, and algorithmic disgorgement. The Commission’s investigation should also review how Google enables advertisers, data brokers, and leading online publisher partners to surreptitiously surveil the online activities of young people. The FTC should set into place a series of ‘fail-safe’ safeguards to ensure that these irresponsible behaviors will never happen again.” Caitriona Fitzgerald, Deputy Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said "Google committed in 2019 that it would stop serving personalized ads on 'made for kids' YouTube videos, but Adalytics’ research shows that this harmful practice is still happening. The FTC should investigate this issue and Google should be prohibited from monetizing minors’ data."Jim Steyer, President and CEO of Common Sense Media, said "The Adalytics findings are troubling but in no way surprising given YouTube’s history of violating the kids’ privacy. Google denies doing anything wrong and the advertisers point to Google, a blame game that makes children the ultimate losers. The hard truth is, companies — whether it’s Big Tech or their advertisers — basically care only about their profits, and they will not take responsibility for acting against kids’ best interests. We strongly encourage the FTC to take action here to protect kids by hitting tech companies where it really hurts: their bottom line." ### 
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  • Press Release

    Advocates call for FTC action to rein in Meta’s abusive practices targeting kids and teens

    Letter from 31 organizations in tech advocacy, children’s rights, and health supports FTC action to halt Meta’s profiting off of young users’ sensitive data

    Contact:David Monahan, Fairplay: david@fairplayforkids.orgKatharina Kopp, Center for Digital Democracy: Advocates call for FTC action to rein in Meta’s abusive practices targeting kids and teensLetter from 31 organizations in tech advocacy, children’s rights, and health supports FTC action to halt Meta’s profiting off of young users’ sensitive data BOSTON/ WASHINGTON DC–June 13, 2023– A coalition of leading advocacy organizations is standing up today to support the Federal Trade Commission’s recent order reining in Meta’s abusive practices aimed at kids and teens.  Thirty-one groups, led by the Center for Digital Democracy, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Fairplay, and U.S. PIRG, sent a letter to the FTC saying “Meta has violated the law and its consent decrees with the Commission repeatedly and flagrantly for over a decade, putting the privacy of all users at risk. In particular, we support the proposal to prohibit Meta from profiting from the data of children and teens under 18. This measure is justified by Meta’s repeated offenses involving the personal data of minors and by the unique and alarming risks its practices pose to children and teens.”  Comments from advocates: Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy, Center for Digital Democracy:“The FTC is fully justified to propose the modifications of Meta’s consent decree and to require it to stop profiting from the data it gathers on children and teens.  There are three key reasons why.  First, due to their developmental vulnerabilities, minors are uniquely harmed by Meta’s failure to comply repeatedly with its 2012 and 2020 settlements with the FTC, including its non-compliance with the federal children’s privacy law (COPPA); two, because Meta has failed for many years to even comply with the procedural safeguards required by the Commission, it is now time for structural remedies that will make it less likely that Meta can again disregard the terms of the consent decree; and three, the FTC must affirm its credibility and that of the rule of law and ensure that tech giants cannot evade regulation and meaningful accountability.” John Davisson, Director of Litigation, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC): "Meta has had two decades to clean up its privacy practices after many FTC warnings, but consistently chose not to. That's not 'tak[ing] the problem seriously,' as Meta claims—that's lawlessness. The FTC was right to take decisive action to protect Meta's most vulnerable users and ban Meta from profiting off kids and teens. It's no surprise to see Meta balk at the legal consequences of its many privacy violations, but this action is well within the Commission's power to take.” Haley Hinkle, Policy Counsel, Fairplay: “Meta has been under the FTC's supervision in this case for over a decade now and has had countless opportunities to put user privacy over profit. The Commission's message that you cannot monetize minors' data if you can't or won't protect them is urgent and necessary in light of these repeated failures to follow the law. Kids and teens are uniquely vulnerable to the harms that result from Meta’s failure to run an effective privacy program, and they can’t wait for change any longer.” R.J. Cross, Director of U.S. PIRG’s Don’t Sell My Data campaign: “The business model of social media is a recipe for unhappiness. We’re all fed content about what we should like and how we should look, conveniently presented alongside products that will fix whatever problem with our lives the algorithm has just helped us discover. That’s a hard message to hear day in and day out, especially when you’re a teen. We’re damaging the self-confidence of some of our most impressionable citizens in the name of shopping. It’s absurd. It’s time to short circuit the business model.”  ###
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  • “By clarifying what types of data constitute personal data under COPPA, the FTC ensures that COPPA keeps pace with the 21st century and the increasingly sophisticated practices of marketers,” said Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy at Center for Digital Democracy.“As interactive technologies evolve rapidly, COPPA must be kept up to date and reflect changes in the way children use and access these new media, including virtual and augmented realities. The metaverse typically involves a convergence of physical and digital lives, where avatars are digital extension of our physical selves. We agree with the FTC that an avatar’s characteristics and its behavior constitute personal information. And as virtual and augmented reality interfaces allow for the collection of extensive sets of personal data, including sensitive and biometric data, this data must be considered personal information under COPPA. Without proper protections this highly coveted data would be exploited by marketers and used to further manipulate and harm children online.”
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  • Contact: Katharina Kopp, kkopp [at]“We welcome the FTC ‘s action to address the rampant commercial surveillance of children via Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as Amazon’s Echo, and for enforcing existing law,” said Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy at Center for Digital Democracy. “Children’s data is taken away from them illegally and surreptitiously on a massive scale via IoT devices, including their voice recordings and data gleaned from kids’ viewing, reading, listening, and purchasing habits. These violations in turn lead to further exploitation and manipulation of children and teens. They lead to violating their privacy, to manipulating them into being interested in harmful products, to undermining their autonomy and hooking them to digital media, and to perpetuating discrimination and bias. As Commissioner Bedoya’s separate statement points out, with this proposed order the FTC warns companies that they cannot take data from children and teens (and others) illegitimately to develop even more sophisticated methods to take advantage of them. Both the FTC and the Department of Justice must hold Amazon accountable.”
    white and black Amazon Echo Dot 2 by Find Experts at
  • FACT SHEETSummary of the Kids Online Safety ActAs Congressional hearings, media reports, academic research, whistleblower disclosures, and heartbreaking stories from youth and families have repeatedly shown, social media platforms have exacerbated the mental health crisis among children and teens fostering body image issues, creating addiction-like use, promoting products that are dangerous for young audiences, and fueling destructive bullying.  The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) provides children, adolescents, and parents with the tools, safeguards, and transparency they need to protect against threats to young people's health and wellbeing online. The design and operation of online platforms have a significant impact on these harms, such as recommendation systems that send kids down rabbit holes of destructive content, and weak protections against relentless bullying.KOSA would provide safeguards and accountability through:   Creating a duty of care for social media platforms to prevent and mitigate specific dangers to minors in their design and operation of products, including the promotion of suicidal behaviors, eating disorders, substance use, sexual exploitation, advertisements for tobacco and alcohol, and more.Requiring social media platforms to provide children and adolescents with options to protect their information, disable addictive product features, and opt out of algorithmic recommendations. Platforms are required to enable the strongest settings by default.  Giving parents new tools to help support their children and providing them (as well as schools) a dedicated reporting channel to raise issues (such as harassment or threats) to the platforms.How Online Harms Impact LGBTQ+ CommunitiesSocial media can be an important tool for self-discovery, expression, and community. However, online platforms have failed to take basic steps to protect their users from profound harm and have put profit ahead of safety. Companies have operationalized their products to keep young users on their sites for as long as possible, even if the means to get people to use their platforms more are harmful. From documents provided by a whistleblower, Facebook’s own researchers described Instagram itself as a “perfect storm” that “exacerbates downward spirals” and produces hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually.  This “perfect storm” has been shown by academic research and surveys to weigh most profoundly on LGBTQ+ children and adolescents, who are more at risk of bullying, threats, and suicidal behaviors on social media. Some harms and examples of the protections KOSA would provide include:  LGBTQ+ youth are more at risk of cyberbullying and harassment.LGBTQ+ high school students consistently report higher rates of cyberbullying than their heterosexual peers, and suffer more severe forms of harassment, such as stalking, non-consensual imagery, and violent threats.Surveys have found that 56% of LGBTQ+ students had been cyberbullied in their lifetime compared to 32% for non-LGBTQ+ students.One in three young LGBTQ+ people have said that they had been sexually harassed online, four times as often as other young people.  LGBTQ+ youth are more at risk for eating disorders and substance use.Young LGBTQ+ people experience significantly greater rates of eating disorders and substance use compared to their heterosexual and cisgender peers. Transgender and nonbinary youth are at even higher risk for eating disorders, and Black LGBTQ+ youth are diagnosed at half the rate of their white peers.Prolonged use of social media is linked with negative appearance comparison, which in turn increases risk for eating disorder symptoms.Engagement-based algorithms feed extreme eating disorders through recommending more eating disorder content to vulnerable users (every click or view sends more destructive content to a user).For example, TikTok began recommending eating disorder content within 8 minutes of creating a new account and Instagram was found to deluge a new user with eating disorder recommendations within one day.How KOSA Will Help:KOSA would require that platforms give users the ability to turn off engagement-based algorithms or options to influence the recommendation they receive. A user would be able to stop recommendation systems that are sending them toxic content.  KOSA’s duty of care requires platforms to prevent and mitigate cyberbullying. It also requires that platforms give users options to restrict messages from other users and to make their profile private.It would require platforms to provide a point of contact for users to report harassment and mandates platforms respond to these reports within a designated time frame.  LGBTQ+ youth are more at risk of suicide and suicidal behaviors.Young people exposed to hateful messaging online in tandem with self-harm material on social media, increases the risk of suicidal behaviors and/or suicide.These risks are exacerbated when platform recommendation systems amplify hateful content and self-harm content.For example, after creating a new teen account on TikTok, suicide content was recommended under three minutes.Surveys have found 42% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.Moreover, eating disorders, depression, bullying, substance use, and other mental health harms that fall harder on LGBTQ+ communities further increase risks of self-harm and suicide.  How KOSA Will Help:In addition to the core safeguards and options provided to kids, such as controls and transparency over algorithmic recommendation systems, KOSA’s duty of care would require platforms consider and address the ways in which their recommendation systems promote suicide and suicidal behaviors, creating incentives for the platforms to provide self-help resources, uplift information about recovery, and prevent their algorithms from pushing users down rabbit holes of harmful and deadly content.Protections for LGBTQ+ CommunitiesThe reintroduction of the Kids Online Safety Act takes into account recommended edits from a diverse group of organizations, researchers, youth, and families.The outcome from experts in the field and those with lived experience is a thoughtful and tailored bill designed to be a strong step in advancing a core set of accountability provisions to provide children, adolescents, and families with a safer online experience. Below is a summary comparing previous bill text and changes that were made for reintroduction.Concerns with Previous DraftHow Current Draft Protects LGBTQ+The “duty of care” is too vague, creating liabilities for broad and undefined harms to children and teens.The duty of care is now limited to a set of specific harms that have been shown to be exacerbated by online platforms’ product designs and algorithms. Specific harms are focused on serious threats to the wellbeing of young users, such as, eating disorders, substance use, depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviors, physical violence, sexual exploitation, and the marketing of narcotics, tobacco, gambling, alcohol. The terms used to describe those harms are linked to clinical or legal definitions where there  is a perceived risk of misuse. In addition, the duty of care includes a limitation to ensure it is not construed to require platforms to block access to content that a young user specifically requests or block access to evidence-informed medical information and support resources.The inclusion of “grooming” in the duty of care could be weaponized against entities providing information about gender-affirming care.“Grooming” was cut from the bill. Sexual exploitation and abuse are now defined using existing federal criminal statutes to prevent politicalization or distortion of terms.The duty of care to prevent and mitigate “self-harm” or “physical harm” could be weaponized against trans youth and those who provide information about gender-affirming care.The specific reference to “self-harm” has been removed from the duty of care. “Physical harm” has been changed to “physical violence” to enhance clarity. Other covered harms related to “self-harm” are covered using terminology that is anchored in a medical definition.Will allow non-supportive parents to surveil LGBTQ+ youth online.The legislation clarifies the tools available to protect kids and differentiates the developmental differences between children and young teens.KOSA has always included requirements that children and adolescents are notified if parental controls are turned on, and required kids know before parents are informed about creating a new account. For teens, the bill requires platforms to give parents the ability to restrict purchases, view metrics on how much time a minor is spending on a platform and view - but not change - account settings. It does not require the disclosure of a minor’s browsing behavior, search history, messages, or other content or metadata of their communications.KOSA will lead to privacy-invasive age verification across the internet.KOSA never required age verification or gating, nor did it create liability for companies if kids lie about their age.The bill explicitly states that companies are not required to age-gate or collect additional data to determine a user’s age.Additionally, a knowledge standard is more consistently applied across the bill for the purpose of clarifying that companies are not liable if they have no knowledge whether a user is a child or adolescent.KOSA will affect access to sexual health information, schools, or nonprofit services.KOSA requirements only apply to commercial online platforms, such as social media and games that have been the largest source of issues for kids online.Nonprofits, schools, and broadband services are exempt from KOSA and a previous reference to “educational services” was removed from the “covered platform” definition of the bill.KOSA does not apply to health sites or other information resources.
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  • The Honorable Joseph R. BidenPresident of the United StatesThe White House1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NWWashington, DC 20500May 23, 2023Dear President Biden:The undersigned civil rights, consumer protection, and other civil society organizations write to express concern about digital trade negotiations underway as part of the proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).Civil society advocates and officials within your own administration have raised increasing concern about discrimination, racial disparities, and inequities that may be “baked into” the algorithms that make decisions about access to jobs and housing, health care, prison sentencing, educational opportunity, insurance rates and lending, deployment of police resources, and much more. To address these injustices, we have advocated for anti-discrimination protections and algorithmic transparency and fairness. We have been pleased that these concepts are incorporated into your recent Executive Order on racial equity,1 as well as the White House’s AI Bill of Rights2 and many other policy proposals. The DOJ, FTC, CFPB, and EEOC also recently released a joint statement underscoring their commitment to combating discrimination in automated systems.3 Any trade agreement must be consistent with, and not undermine, these policies and the values they are advancing.Now, we have learned that the U.S. may be considering proposals for IPEF and other trade agreement negotiations that could sabotage efforts to prevent and remedy algorithmic discrimination, including provisions that could potentially preempt executive and Congressional legal authority to advance these goals. Such provisions may make it harder or impossible for Congress or executive agencies to adopt appropriate policies while also respecting our international trade commitments. For example, trade provisions that guarantee digital firms new secrecy rights over source code and algorithms could thwart potential algorithmic impact assessment and audit requirements, such as testing for racial bias or other violations of U.S. law and regulation. And because the trade negotiations are secret, we do not know how the exact language could affect pivotal civil rights protections. Including such industry-favored provisions in trade deals like IPEF would be a grievous error and undermine the Administration’s own policy goals. We urge the administration to not submit any proposals that could undermine the ability to protect the civil rights of people in the United States, particularly with regard to digital trade. Moreover, there is a great need for transparency in these negotiations. Text already proposed should be made public so the civil rights community and relevant experts can challenge any provisions that could undermine administration goals regarding racial equity, transparency, and fairness. We know that your administration shares our goals of advancing racial equity, including protecting the public from algorithmic discrimination. Thank you for your leadership in this area. For questions or further discussion, please contact Harlan Yu (, David Brody (, and Emily Peterson-Cassin (,American Civil Liberties Union Center for Democracy & Technology Center for Digital Democracy Data & Society Research Institute Demand Progress Education Fund Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) Fight for the Future Lawyers’ Committee for Civil RightsUnder LawThe Leadership Conference on Civil andHuman Rights NAACPNational Urban League Public Citizen Sikh American Legal Defense andEducation Fund UpturnCC:Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo U.S. Trade Representative Katherine TaiNational Economic Council Director Lael BrainardNational Security Advisor Jake SullivanDomestic Policy Council Director Susan RiceIncoming Domestic Policy Council Director Neera TandenDomestic Policy Council Deputy Director for Racial Justice and Equity Jenny Yang1 Exec. Order No. 14091, 88 Fed. Reg. 10825, Feb. 16, 2023, available at The White House, Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, Oct. 22, 2022, available at Joint Statement on Enforcement Efforts Against Discrimination and Bias in Automated Systems, CFPB, DOJ, EEOC, FTC, April 25, 2023, available at
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  • CDD urges Congress to adopt stronger online safeguards for kids and teensContact: Katharina Kopp, kkopp [at] democraticmedia.orgThe Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0), introduced by Senators Markey and Cassidy, will provide urgently needed online safeguards for children and teens. It will enact real platform accountability and limit the economic and psychological exploitation of children and teens online and thus address the public health crisis they are experiencing.By banning targeted ads to young people under 16, the endless streams of data collected by online companies to profile and track them will be significantly reduced. The ability of digital marketers and platforms to manipulate, discriminate, and exploit children and teens will be curtailed. COPPA 2.0 will also extend the original COPPA law protections for youth from 12 to 16 years of age.  The proposed law provides the ability to delete children’s and teen’s data with a click of an “eraser button.”  With the creation of a new FTC "Youth Marketing and Privacy Division,” COPPA 2.0 will ensure young peoples’ privacy rights are enforced.
  • Meta’s Virtual Reality-based Marketing Apparatus Poses Risks to Teens and OthersWhether it’s called Facebook or Meta, or known by its Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger or Reels services, the company has always seen children and teens as a key target. The recent announcement opening(link is external) up the Horizon Worlds metaverse(link is external) to teens, despite calls to first ensure it will be a safe and healthy experience, is lifted out of Facebook’s well-worn political playbook—make whatever promises necessary to temporarily quell any political opposition to its monetization plans. Meta’s priorities are intractably linked to its quarterly shareholder revenue reports. Selling our “real” and “virtual” selves to marketers is their only real source of revenue, a higher priority than any self-regulatory scheme Meta offers(link is external) claiming to protect children and teens.Meta’s focus on creating more immersive, AI/VR, metaverse-connected experiences for advertisers should serve as a “wake-up” call for regulators. Meta has unleashed a digital environment designed to trigger the “engagement(link is external)” of young people with marketing, data collection and commercially driven manipulation. Action is required to ensure that young people are treated fairly, and not exposed to data surveillance, threats to their health and other harms.Here are a few recent developments that should be part of any regulatory review of Meta and young people:Expansion of “immersive(link is external)” video and advertising-embedded applications: Meta tells marketers it provides “seamless video experiences that are immersive and fueled by discovery,” including the “exciting(link is external) opportunity for advertisers” with its short-video “Reels” system. Through virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR(link is external)) technologies, we are exposed to advertising content designed to have a greater impact by influencing our subconscious and emotional processes. With AR ads, Meta tells(link is external) marketers, they can “create immersive experiences, encourage people to virtually try out your products and inspire people to interact with your brand,” including encouraging “people who interact with your ad… [to]take photos or videos to share their experience on Facebook Feed, on Facebook and Instagram Stories or in a message on Instagram.” Meta has also been researching(link is external) the use of AR(link is external) and VR(link is external) that will ensure that its ad and marketing messaging becomes even more compelling.Expanded integration of ads throughout Meta applications: Meta allows advertisers to “turn organic image and video posts into ads in Ads Manager on Facebook Reels,” including adding a “call-to-action” feature. It permits marketers to “boost their Reels within the Instagram app to turn them into ads….” It enables marketers “to add a “Send Message” button to their Facebook Reels ads [that] give people an option to start a conversation in WhatsApp(link is external) right from the ad.” This follows last year’s Meta “Boosted Reels” product(link is external) release, allowing Instagram Reels to be turned into ads as well.“Ads Manager” “optimization(link is external) goals” that are inappropriate when used for targeting young people: These include “impressions, reach, daily unique reach, link clicks and offsite conversions.” “Ad placements” to target teens are available for the “Facebook Marketplace, Facebook Feed, … Facebook Stories, Facebook-instream video (mobile), Instagram Feed, Instagram Explore, Instagram Stories, Facebook Reels and Instagram Reels.”The use of metrics for delivering and measuring the impact of augmented reality ads: As Meta explains, it uses:(link is external)Instant Experience View Time: The average total time in seconds that people spent viewing an Instant Experience. An Instant Experience can include videos, images, products from a catalog, an augmented reality effect and more. For an augmented reality ad, this metric counts the average time people spent viewing your augmented reality effect after they tapped your ad.Instant Experience Clicks to Open: The number of clicks on your ad that open an Instant Experience. For an augmented reality ad, this metric counts the number of times people tapped your ad to open your augmented reality effect.Instant Experience Outbound Clicks: The number of clicks on links in an Instant Experience that take people off Meta technologies. For an augmented reality ad, this metric counts the number of times people tapped the call to action button in your augmented reality effect.Effect Share: The number of times someone shared an image or video that used an augmented reality effect from your ad. Shares can be to Facebook or Instagram Stories, to Facebook Feed or as a message on Instagram.These ad effects can be designed and tested(link is external) through Meta’s “Spark Hub” and ad manager. Such VR and other measurement systems require regulators to analyze their role and impact on youth.Expanded use of machine learning/AI to promote shopping via Advantage(link is external)+: Last year, Meta rolled out “Advantage+ shopping campaigns, Meta’s machine-learning capabilities [that] save advertisers(link is external) time and effort while creating and managing campaigns. For example, advertisers can set up a single Advantage+ shopping campaign, and the machine learning-powered automation automatically combines prospecting and retargeting audiences, selects numerous ad creative and messaging variations, and then optimizes for the best-performing ads.” While Meta says that Advantage+ isn’t used to target teens, it deploys(link is external) it for “Gen Z” audiences. How Meta uses machine learning/AI to target families should also be on the regulatory agenda.Immersive advertising will shape the near-term evolution of marketing, where brands will be “world agnostic and transcend the limitations of the current physical and digital space.” The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) predicts(link is external) that “in the next decade, AR and VR hardware and software will reach ubiquitous status.” One estimate is that by 2030, the metaverse will “generate(link is external) up to $5 trillion in value.”In the meantime, Meta’s playbook in response to calls from regulators and advocates is to promise some safeguards, often focused on encouraging the use of what it calls “safety(link is external) tools.” But these tools(link is external) do not ensure that teens aren’t reached and influenced by AI- and VR-driven marketing technologies and applications. Meta also knows that today, ad-targeting is less important than so-called “discovery(link is external),” where its purposeful melding of its video content, AR effects, social interactions and influencer marketing will snare young people into its marketing “conversion”(link is external) net.Last week, Mark Zuckerberg told(link is external) investors his vision of bringing “AI agents to billions of people,” as well as into his “metaverse” that will be populated by “avatars, objects, worlds, and codes to tie” online and offline together. There will be, as previously reported, an AI-driven “discovery(link is external) engine” that will “increase the amount of suggested content to users.”These developments reflect just a few of the AI- and VR-marketing-driven changes to the Meta system. They illustrate why responsible regulators and advocates must be in the forefront of holding this company accountable, especially with regard to its youth-targeting apparatus.Please also read(link is external) Fairplay for Kids’ account of Meta’s long history of failing to protect children online.   metateensaivr0523fin.pdf
    Jeff Chester
  • Reining In Meta’s Digital ‘Wild West’ as FTC protects young people’s safety, health and privacyContacts:Jeff Chester, CDD, 202-494-7100David Monahan, Fairplay, 781-315-2586Children’s advocates Fairplay and Center for Digital Democracy respond to today’s announcement that the FTC proposes action to address Facebook’s privacy violations in practices impacting children and teens.  And see important new information compiled by Fairplay and CDD, linked below.Josh Golin, executive director, Fairplay:The action taken by the Federal Trade Commission against Meta is long overdue. For years, Meta has flouted the law and exploited millions of children and teens in their efforts to maximize profits, with little care as to the harms faced by young users on their platforms. The FTC has rightly recognized Meta simply cannot be trusted with young people’s sensitive data and proposed a remedy in line with Meta’s long history of abuse of children. We applaud the Commission for its efforts to hold Meta accountable and for taking a huge step toward creating the safe online ecosystem every young American deserves.Jeff Chester, executive director, Center for Digital Democracy:Today’s action by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a long-overdue intervention into what has become a huge national crisis for young people. Meta and its platforms are at the center of a powerful commercialized social media system that has spiraled out of control, threatening the mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents. The company has not done enough to address the problems caused by its unaccountable data-driven commercial platforms. Amid a continuing rise in shocking incidents of suicide, self-harm and online abuse, as well as exposés from industry “whistleblowers,” Meta is unleashing even more powerful data gathering and targeting tactics fueled by immersive content, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, while pushing youth further into the metaverse with no meaningful safeguards. Parents and children urgently need the government to institute protections for the “digital generation” before it is too late. Today’s action by the FTC limiting how Meta can use the data it gathers will bring critical protections to both children and teens. It will require Meta/Facebook to engage in a proper “due diligence” process when launching new products targeting young people—rather than its current method of “release first and address problems later approach.” The FTC deserve the thanks of U.S parents and others concerned about the privacy and welfare of our “digital generation.”NEW REPORTS:META HAS A LONG HISTORY OF FAILING TO PROTECT CHILDREN ONLINE(link is external)(from Fairplay)META’S VIRTUAL REALITY-BASED MARKETING APPARATUS POSES RISKS TO TEENS AND OTHERS(from CDD)
  • Advocates Fairplay, Eating Disorders Coalition, Center for Digital Democracy, and others announce support of the newly reintroduced Kids Online Safety ActContact:David Monahan, Fairplay ( pledge support for landmark bill requiring online platforms to protect kids, teens with “safety by design” approachAdvocates Fairplay, Eating Disorders Coalition, Center for Digital Democracy, and others announce support of the newly reintroduced Kids Online Safety ActBOSTON, MA and WASHINGTON, DC — May 2, 2023 — Today, a coalition of leading advocates for children’s rights, health, and privacy lauded the introduction of the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), a landmark bill that would create robust online protections for children and teens online. Among the advocates pledging support for KOSA are Fairplay, Eating Disorders Coalition, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and Common Sense.KOSA, a bipartisan bill from Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Martha Blackburn (R-TN), would make online platforms and digital providers abide by a “duty of care” requiring them to eliminate or mitigate the impact of harmful content on their platforms. The bill would also require platforms to default to the most protective settings for minors and enable independent researchers to access “black box” algorithms to assist in research on algorithmic harms to children and teens.The reintroduction of the Kids Online Safety Act coincides with a rising tide of bipartisan support for action to protect children and teens online amidst a growing youth mental health crisis. A February report from the CDC showed that teen girls and LGBTQ+ youth are facing record levels of sadness and despair, and another report from Amnesty International indicated that 74% of youth check social media more than they’d like.Fairplay Executive Director, Josh Golin:“For far too long, Big Tech have been allowed to play by their own rules in a relentless pursuit of profit, with little regard for the damage done to the children and teens left in their wake. Companies like Meta and TikTok have made billions from hooking kids on their products by any means necessary, even promoting dangerous challenges, pro-eating disorder content, violence, drugs, and bigotry to the kids on their platforms. The Kids Online Safety Act stands to change all that. Today marks an exciting step toward the internet every young person needs and deserves, where children and teens can explore, socialize and learn without being caught in Big Tech crossfire.”National Alliance for Eating Disorders CEO and EDC Board Member, Johanna Kandel:“The Kids Online Safety Act is an integral first step in making social media platforms a safer place for our children. We need to hold these platforms accountable for their role in exposing our kids to harmful content, which is leading to declining mental health, higher rates of suicide, and eating disorders. As both a CEO of an eating disorders nonprofit and a mom of a young child, these new laws would go a long way in safeguarding the experiences our children have online.”Center for Digital Democracy Deputy Director, Katharina Kopp:“The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), co-sponsored by Senators Blumenthal and Blackburn, will hold social media companies accountable for their role in the public health crisis that children and teens experience today. It will require platforms to make better design choices that ensure the well-being of young people. KOSA is urgently needed to stop online companies operating in ways that encourage self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, substance use, sexual exploitation, patterns of addiction-like behaviors, and other mental and physical threats.  It also provides safeguards to address unfair digital marketing tactics. Children and teens deserve an online environment that is safe. KOSA will significantly reduce the harms that children, teens, and their families experience online every day.”Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Children Development Executive Director, Kris Perry:“We appreciate the Senators’ efforts to protect children in this increasingly complicated digital world. KOSA will allow access to critical datasets from online platforms for academic and research organizations. This data will facilitate scientific research to better understand the overarching impact social media has on child development."###kosa_reintro_pr.pdf
  • Statement from Children’s Advocacy Groups on New Social Media Bill by U.S. Senators Schatz and CottonWashington, D.C., April 26, 2023– Several children’s advocacy groups expressed concern today with parts of a new bill intended to protect kids and teens from online harms.  The bill, “The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act,” was introduced this morning by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Tom Cotton (R-AR).The groups, including Common Sense Media, Fairplay, and The Center for Digital Democracy, play a leading role on legislation in Congress to ensure that tech companies, and social media platforms in particular, are held accountable for the serious and sometimes deadly harms related to the design and operation of these platforms. They said the new bill is well-intentioned in the face of a youth mental health crisis and has some features that should be adopted, but that other aspects of the bill take the wrong approach to a serious problem.The groups said they support the bill’s ban on algorithmic recommendation systems to minors, which would prevent platforms from using personal data of minors to amplify harmful content to them. However, they said they object to the fact that the bill places too many new burdens on parents and creates unrealistic bans and institutes potentially harmful parental control over minors’ access to social media. By requiring parental consent before a teen can use a social media platform, vulnerable minors, including LGBTQ+ kids and kids who live in unsupportive households, may be cut off from access to needed resources and community. At the same time, kids and teens could pressure their parents or guardians to provide consent. Once young users make it onto the platform, they will still be exposed to addictive or unsafe design features beyond algorithmic recommendation systems, such as endless scroll and autoplay. The bill’s age verification measures also introduce troubling implications for the privacy of all users, given the requirement for covered companies to verify the age of both adult and minor users. Despite its importance, there is currently no consensus on how to implement age verification measures without compromising users’ privacy. The groups said that they strongly support other legislation that establish important guardrails on platforms and other tech companies to make the internet a healthier and safer place for kids and families, for example the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), COPPA 2.0, bi-partisan legislation that was approved last year by the Senate Commerce Committee and expected to be reintroduced again this year.“We appreciate Senators Schatz and Cotton's effort to protect kids and teens online and we look forward to working with them as we have with many Senators and House members over the past several years. But this is a life or death issue for families and we have to be very careful about how to protect kids online. The truth is, some approaches to the problem of online harms to kids risk further harming kids and families,” said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. “Congress should place the onus on companies to make the internet safer for kids and teens and avoid placing the government in the middle of the parent-child relationship. Congress has many good policy options already under consideration and should act on them now to make the internet healthier and safer for kids.”“We are grateful to Senators Schatz, Cotton, Britt and Murphy for their efforts to improve the online environment for young people but are deeply concerned their bill is not not the right approach,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Fairplay. “ Young people deserve secure online spaces where they can safely and autonomously socialize, connect with peers, learn, and explore. But the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act does not get us any closer to a safer internet for kids and teens. Instead, if this legislation passes, parents will face the same exact conundrum they face today: Do they allow their kids to use social media and be exposed to serious online harms, or do they isolate their children from their peers? We need legislative solutions that put the burden on companies to make their platforms safer, less exploitative, and less addictive, instead of putting even more on parents’ plates.”"It’s critical that social media platforms are held accountable for the harmful impacts their practices have on children and teens. However, this bill’s approach is misguided. It places too much of a burden on parents, instead of focusing on platforms’ business practices that have produced the unprecedented public health crisis that harms our children’s physical and mental well-being. Kids and teens should not be locked out of our digital worlds, but be allowed online where they can be safe and develop in age-appropriate ways. One of the unintended consequences of this bill will likely be a two-tiered online system, where poor and otherwise disadvantaged parents and their children will be excluded from digital worlds. What we need are policies that hold social media companies truly accountable, so all young people can thrive,” said Katharina Kopp, Ph.D., Deputy Director of the Center for Digital Democracy.schatz-cotton_bill_coalition_statement.pdf
  • Citing research that illustrates a number of serious risks to children and teens in the Metaverse, advocates say Meta must wait for more research and root out dangers before targeting youth in VR. BOSTON, MA, WASHINGTON, DC and LONDON, UK — Friday, April 14, 2023 — Today, a coalition of over 70 leading experts and advocates for health, privacy, and children’s rights are urging Meta to abandon plans to allow minors between the ages of 13 and 17 into Horizon Worlds, Meta’s flagship virtual reality platform. Led by Fairplay, the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), and the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), the advocates underscored the dearth of research on the impact of time spent in the Metaverse on the health and wellbeing of youth as well as the company’s track record of putting profits ahead of children’s safety. The advocates’ letter maintained that the Metaverse is already unsuitable for use by children and teens, citing March 2023 research from CCDH which revealed that minors already using Horizon Worlds were routinely exposed to harassment and abuse—including sexually explicit insults and racist, misogynistic, and homophobic harassment—and other offensive content. In addition to the existing risks present in Horizon Worlds, the advocates’ letter outlined a variety of potential risks facing underage users in the Metaverse, including magnified risks to privacy through the collection of biomarkers, risks to youth mental health and wellbeing, and the risk of discrimination, among others.In addition to Fairplay, CDD, and CCDH, the 36 organizations signing on include Common Sense Media, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Public Citizen, and the Eating Disorders Coalition.The 37 individual signatories include: Richard Gephardt of the Council for Responsible Social Media, former Member of Congress and House Majority Leader; Sherry Turkle, MIT Professor and author of Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation; and social psychologist and author Jonathan Haidt.Josh Golin, Executive Director, Fairplay:“It's beyond appalling that Mark Zuckerberg wants to save his failing Horizons World platform by targeting teens. Already, children are being exposed to homophobia, racism, sexism, and other reprehensible content on Horizon Worlds. The fact that Mr. Zuckerberg is even considering such an ill-formed and dangerous idea speaks to why we need Congress to pass COPPA 2.0 and the Kids Online Safety Act.”Katharina Kopp, PhD, Deputy Director, Center for Digital Democracy:“Meta is demonstrating once again that it doesn’t consider the best interest of young people when it develops plans to expand its business operations.  Before it considers opening its Horizon Worlds metaverse operation to teens, it should first commit to fully exploring the potential consequences.  That includes engaging in an independent and research-based effort addressing the impact of virtual experiences on young people’s mental and physical well-being, privacy, safety, and potential exposure to hate and other harmful content.  It should also ensure that minors don’t face forms of discrimination in the virtual world, which tends to perpetuate and exacerbate ‘real life’ inequities.”Mark Bertin, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at New York Medical College, former Director of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics at the Westchester Institute for Human Development, author of The Family ADHD Solution, Mindful Parenting for ADHD, and How Children Thrive:“This isn't like the panic over rock and roll, where a bunch of old folks freaked out over nothing. Countless studies already describe the harmful impact of Big Tech products on young people, and it’s worsening a teen mental health crisis. We can't afford to let profit-driven companies launch untested projects targeted at kids and teens and let families pick up the pieces after. It is crucial for the well-being of our children that we understand what is safe and healthy first.” Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate:“Meta is making the same mistake with Horizon Worlds that it made with Facebook and Instagram. They have prioritized profit over safety in their design of the product, failed to provide meaningful transparency, and refused to take responsibility for ensuring worlds are safe, especially for children.“Yet again, their aim is speed to market in order to achieve monopoly status – rather than building truly sustainable, productive and enjoyable environments in which people feel empowered and safe.“Whereas, to some, ‘move fast and break things’ may have appeared swashbuckling from young startup entrepreneurs, it is a brazenly irresponsible strategy coming from Meta, one of the world’s richest companies. It should have learned lessons from the harms their earlier products imposed on society, our democracies and our citizens.”horizonletter.pdf
    Jeff Chester
  • Reports indicate FTC plans to advance case against Amazon for violation of kids’ privacy after advocates’ 2019 complaint. BOSTON, MA and WASHINGTON, DC — Friday, March 31, 2023 — Following a groundbreaking investigation of Amazon’s Echo Dot Kids by Fairplay and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), the Federal Trade Commission is preparing to advance a case against Amazon for the company’s violations of children’s privacy law to the Department of Justice. According to new reporting from Politico, the case centers on Amazon’s violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) through its Alexa voice assistant.In 2019, privacy advocates Fairplay and CDD called for the FTC to take action against Amazon after an investigation of the company’s Echo Dot Kids smart home assistant, a candy-colored version of Amazon’s flagship home assistant with Alexa voice technology. The investigationrevealed a number of shocking illegal privacy violations, including Amazon’s indefinite retention of kids’ sensitive data even after parents requested for it to be deleted. Now, reports indicate that the FTC is acting on the advocates’ calls for investigation.“We’re thrilled that the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice are close to taking action against Amazon for its egregious violations of children’s privacy,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Fairplay. “We know it’s not just social media platforms and apps thatmisuse children’s sensitive data. This landmark case would be the first time the FTC sanctioned the maker of a voice-enabled device for flouting COPPA. Amazon and its Big Tech peers must learn that COPPA violations are not just a cost of doing business.” “It is time for the FTC to address the rampant commercial surveillance of children via Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as Amazon’s Echo, and enforce existing law,” said Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy at Center for Digital Democracy. “Children are giving away sensitive personal data on a massive scale via IoT devices, including their voice recordings and data gleaned from kids’ viewing, reading, listening, and purchasing habits. These data practices lead to violating children’s privacy, to manipulating them into being interested in harmful products, undermining their autonomy, and to perpetuating discrimination and bias. Both the FTC and the Department of Justice must hold Amazon accountable.”[see attached for additional comments] ftc_amazon_investigation_statement_fairplay_cdd.pdf
    Jeff Chester
  • Consumer Advocates Urge Action Walmart Deceptively Marketing to Kids on RobloxConsumer Advocates Urge ActionMADISON, CONN. January 23, 2023 – A coalition of advocacy groups led by ad watchdog ( is urging the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) – a BBB National Program – to immediately audit the Walmart Universe of Play advergame, a recent addition to the self-regulatory group’s COPPA Safe Harbor Program and bearer of one of the Program’s certification seals. According to a letter from, Fairplay, Center for Digital Democracy and the National Association of Consumer Advocates, a copy of which was sent to Walmart, Roblox and the FTC, the retail giant is exposing children to deceptive marketing on Roblox, the online gaming and creation platform used by millions of kids on a daily basis.Walmart’s first foray into the Roblox metaverse came last September, when it premiered two experiences, Walmart Universe of Play and Walmart Land, which collectively have been visited more than 12 million times. Targeted at – and accessible to – young children on Roblox, Universe of Play features virtual products and characters from L.O.L. Surprise!, Jurassic World, Paw Patrol, and more and is advertised to allow kids to play with the “year’s best toys” and make a “wish list” of toys that can then be purchased at Walmart.As the consumer groups warn, Walmart completely blurs the distinction between advertising content and organic content, and simultaneously fails to provide clear or conspicuous disclosures that Universe of Play (or content within the virtual world) are ads. In addition, as kids’ avatars walk through the game, they are manipulated into opening additional undisclosed advertisements disguised as surprise wrapped gifts.To make matters worse, Walmart is using the CARU COPPA Safe Harbor Program seal to convey the false message that its children’s advergame is not only in compliance with COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), but CARU's Advertising Guidelines and truth-in-advertising laws, as well as a shield against enforcement action.“Walmart’s brazen use of stealth marketing directed at young children who are developmentally unable to recognize the promotional content is not only appalling, it’s deceptive and against truth-in-advertising laws. We urge CARU to take swift action to protect the millions of children being manipulated by Walmart on a daily basis.” Laura Smith, Legal Director“Walmart's egregious and rampant manipulation of children on Roblox -- a platform visited by millions of children every day -- demands immediate action. The rise of the metaverse has enabled a new category of deceptive marketing practices that are harmful to children. CARU must act now to ensure that children are not collateral damage in Walmart's digital drive for profit.” Josh Golin, Executive Director, Fairplay“Walmart’s and Roblox’s practices demonstrate that self-regulation is woefully insufficient to protect children and teens online. Today, young people are targeted by a powerful set of online marketing tactics that are manipulative, unfair, and harmful to their mental and physical health. Digital advertising operates in a ‘wild west’ world where anything goes in terms of reaching and influencing the behaviors of kids and teens. Congress and the Federal Trade Commission must enact safeguards to protect the privacy and well-being of a generation of young people.” Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy, Center for Digital DemocracyTo read more about Walmart’s deceptive marketing on Roblox see: /articles/tina-org-urges-action-against-walmarts-undisclosed-advergame-on-robloxAbout ( is a nonprofit organization that uses investigative journalism, education, and advocacy to empower consumers to protect themselves against false advertising and deceptive marketing.About Fairplay Fairplay is the leading nonprofit organization committed to helping children thrive in an increasingly commercialized, screen-obsessed culture, and the only organization dedicated to ending marketing to children.About Center for Digital DemocracyThe Center for Digital Democracy is a nonprofit organization using education, advocacy, and research into commercial data practices to ensure that digital technologies serve and strengthen democratic values, institutions, and processes.About National Association of Consumer AdvocatesThe National Association of Consumer Advocates is a nonprofit association of more than 1,500 attorneys and consumer advocates committed to representing consumers’ interests.For press inquiries contact: Shana Mueller at 203.421.6210 or
  • Josh Golin, executive director, Fairplay:The FTC’s landmark settlement against Epic Games is an enormous step forward towards creating a safer, less manipulative internet for children and teens. Not only is the Commission holding Epic accountable for violating COPPA by illegally collecting the data of millions of under 13-year-olds, but the settlement is also a shot across the bow against game makers who use unfair practices to drive in-game purchases by young people. The settlement rightly recognizes not only that unfair monetization practices harm young people financially, but that design choices used to drive purchases subject young people to a wide array of dangers, including cyberbullying and predation.Today’s breakthrough settlement underscores why it is so critical that Congress pass the privacy protections for children and teens currently under consideration for the Omnibus bill. These provisions give teens privacy rights for the first time, address unfair monetization by prohibiting targeted advertising, and empower regulators by creating a dedicated youth division at the FTC. Jeff Chester, executive director, Center for Digital Democracy:Through this settlement with EPIC Games using its vital power to regulate unfair business practices, the FTC has extended long-overdue and critically important online protections for teens.  This tells online marketers that from now on, teenagers cannot be targeted using unfair and manipulative tactics designed to take advantage of their young age and other vulnerabilities.Kids should also have their data privacy rights better respected through this enforcement of the federal kids data privacy law (COPPA).  Gaming is a “wild west” when it comes to its data gathering and online marketing tactics, placing young people among the half of the US population who play video games at especially greater risk.  While today’s FTC action creates new safeguards for young people, Congress has a rare opportunity to pass legislation this week ensuring all kids and teens have strong digital safeguards, regardless of what online service they use.
    Jeff Chester
  • Commercial Surveillance expands via the "Big" Screen in the Home Televisions now view and analyze us—the programs we watch, what shows we click on to consider or save, and the content reflected on the “glass” of our screens. On “smart” or connected TVs, streaming TV applications have been engineered to fully deliver the forces of commercial surveillance. Operating stealthily inside digital television sets and streaming video devices is an array of sophisticated “adtech” software. These technologies enable programmers, advertisers and even TV set manufacturers to build profiles used to generate data-driven, tailored ads to specific individuals or households. These developments raise important questions for those concerned about the transparency and regulation of political advertising in the United States.Also known as “OTT” (“over-the-top” since the video signal is delivered without relying on traditional set-top cable TV boxes), the streaming TV industry incorporates the same online advertising techniques employed by other digital marketers. This includes harvesting a cornucopia of information on viewers through alliances with leading data-brokers. More than 80 percent of Americans now use some form of streaming or Smart TV-connected video service. Given such penetration, it is no surprise that streaming TV advertising is playing an important role in the upcoming midterm elections. And, streaming TV will be an especially critical channel for campaigns to vie for voters in 2024. Unlike political advertising on broadcast television or much of cable TV, which is generally transmitted broadly to a defined geographic market area, “addressable” streaming video ads appear in programs advertisers know you actually watch (using technologies such as dynamic ad insertion). Messaging for these ads can also be fine-tuned as a campaign progresses, to make the message more relevant to the intended viewer. For example, if you watch a political ad and then sign up to receive campaign literature, the next TV commercial from a candidate or PAC can be crafted to reflect that action. Or, if your data profile says you are concerned about the costs of healthcare, you may see a different pitch than your nextdoor neighbor who has other interests. Given the abundance of data available on households, including demographic details such as race and ethnicity, there will also be finely tuned pitches aimed at distinct subcultures produced in multiple languages.An estimated $1.4 billion dollars will be spent on streaming political ads for the midterms (part of an overall $9 billion in ad expenditures). With more people “cutting the cord” by signing up for cheaper, ad-supported streaming services, advances in TV technologies to enable personalized data-driven ad targeting, and the integration of streaming TV as a key component of the overall online marketing apparatus, it is evident that the TV business has changed. Even what’s considered traditional broadcasting has been transformed by digital ad technologies. That’s why it’s time to enact policy safeguards to ensure integrity, fairness, transparency and privacy for political advertising on streaming TV. Today, streaming TV  political ads already combine information from voter records with online and offline consumer profile data in order to generate highly targeted messages. By harvesting information related to a person’s race and ethnicity, finances, health concerns, behavior, geolocation, and overall digital media use, marketers can deliver ads tied to our needs and interests. In light of this unprecedented marketing power and precision, new regulations are needed to protect consumer privacy and civic discourse alike. In addition to ensuring voter privacy, so personal data can’t be as readily used as it is today, the messaging and construction of streaming political ads must also be accountable. Merely requiring the disclosure of who is buying these ads is insufficient. The U.S. should enact a set of rules to ensure that the tens of thousands of one-to-one streaming TV ads don’t promote misleading or false claims, or engage in voter suppression and other forms of manipulation. Journalists and campaign watchdogs must have the ability to review and analyze ads, and political campaigns need to identify how they were constructed—including the information provided by data brokers and how a potential voter’s viewing behaviors were analyzed (such as with increasingly sophisticated machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms). For example, data companies such as Acxiom, Experian, Ninth Decimal, Catalina and LiveRamp help fuel the digital video advertising surveillance apparatus. Campaign-spending reform advocates should be concerned. To make targeted streaming TV advertising as effective as possible will likely require serious amounts of money—for the data, analytics, marketing and distribution. Increasingly, key gatekeepers control much of the streaming TV landscape, and purchasing rights to target the most “desirable” people could face obstacles. For example, smart TV makers– such as LG, Roku, Vizio and Samsung– have developed their own exclusive streaming advertising marketplaces. Their smart TVs use what’s called ACR—”automated content recognition”—to collect data that enables them to analyze what appears on our screens—“second by second.” An “exclusive partnership to bring premium OTT inventory to political clients” was recently announced by LG and cable giant Altice’s ad division. This partnership will enable political campaigns that qualify to access 30 million households via Smart TVs, as well as the ability to reach millions of other screens in households known to Altice. Connected TVs also provide online marketers with what is increasingly viewed as essential for contemporary digital advertising—access to a person’s actual identity information (called “first-party” data). Streaming TV companies hope to gain permission to use subscriber information in many other ways. This practice illustrates why the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) current initiative designed to regulate commercial surveillance, now in its initial stage, is so important. Many of the critical issues involving streaming political advertising could be addressed through strong rules on privacy and online consumer protection. For example, there is absolutely no reason why any marketer can so easily obtain all the information used to target us, such as our ethnicity, income, purchase history, and education—to name only a few of the variables available for sale. Nor should the FTC allow online marketers to engage in unfair and largely stealth tactics when creating digital ads—including the use of neuroscience to test messages to ensure they respond directly to our subconscious. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has largely failed to address 21st century video issues, should conduct its own inquiry “in the public interest.” There is also a role here for the states, reflecting their laws on campaign advertising as well as ensuring the privacy of streaming TV viewers.This is precisely the time for policies on streaming video, as the industry becomes much more reliant on advertising and data collection. Dozens of new ad-supported streaming TV networks are emerging—known as FAST channels (Free Ad Supported TV)—which offer a slate of scheduled shows with commercials. Netflix and Disney+, as well as Amazon, have or are soon adopting ad-supported viewing. There are also coordinated industry-wide efforts to perfect ways to more efficiently target and track streaming viewers that involve advertisers, programmers and device companies. Without regulation, the U.S. streaming TV system will be a “rerun” of what we historically experienced with cable TV—dashed expectations of a medium that could be truly diverse—instead of a monopoly—and also offer both programmers and viewers greater opportunities for creative expression and public service. Only those with the economic means will be able to afford to “opt-out” of the advertising and some of the data surveillance on streaming networks. And political campaigns will be allowed to reach individual voters without worry about privacy and the honesty of their messaging. Both the FTC and FCC, and Congress if it can muster the will, have an opportunity to make streaming TV a well-regulated, important channel for democracy. Now is the time for policymakers to tune in.***This essay was originally published by Tech Policy Press.Support for the Center for Digital Democracy’s review of the streaming video market is provided by the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment.
    Jeff Chester
  • Discussion by Jeff Chester at the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance Alcohol Marketers are now big data companies.  They are also commercial surveillance marketing enterprises, which is how data driven digital marketing is increasingly described by regulators and critics.  Like many other global industries, alcohol marketing uses an ever expanding set of diverse and sophisticated online and offline techniques designed to identify and deeply influence its target audiences.  Alcoholic beverage companies have broadly adopted the business model and tactics perfected by Google, Meta/Facebook, and Amazon. This includes “omnichannel” marketing operations that identify a single person and follow them on their various devices, such as gaming, mobile, and streaming.   The alcoholic beverage industry engages in cutting edge digital marketing campaigns throughout the world.  However, the use of contemporary marketing techniques for alcoholic beverages enables us to use various regulatory and other legal tools to protect public health and the public at large.  That includes pursuing various privacy complaints, across state, national or regional data protection regulators (as well as class actions where possible); developing related complaints for consumer protection regulators on the kinds of unfair advertising practices that embody digital marketing, such as the use of neuromarketing to influence subconscious and emotional processes; the reliance on “immersive” ad applications involving virtual and augmented reality (such as metaverse), whose effects also impact non rational processes; the role of influencers used to penetrate youth culture to promote the brand; and, on the data practices itself, the widespread adoption of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence systems to generate predictive and personalized marketing plans on individuals, groups and communities.  Another critical aspect of data marketing, as we know, is the gathering and use of a host of data on people—their race, ethnicity, income, health concerns, geolocation, etc., that when assembled in today’s real-time online marketing machine are used to reach us with a highly informed assessment of who we are and what we do.  In addition to regulation and judicial recourse, there are also the public shaming aspects that can be generated through the news media and other informational campaigns.I will summarize several of the troubling practices of the alcohol marketing industry today that could form the basis for potential regulatory interventions.The use of Big Data operations:  As leading advertisers, alcoholic beverage companies already hold a vast—and growing--array of data on their customers and targets.  For example, AB InBev relies on [quote] 1000 different data sources and has more than 70.1 million unique customer records [unquote].  Its data sources include information gathered thru mobile devices, social media, and ecommerce, among others.   AB InBev has invested in the latest technologies to consolidate, manage and make actionable this information, including Data Management Platforms (DMPs—which integrate and analyze diverse data points) that help identify and target an individual.  Through state-of-the-art online campaigns, companies like ABInBev  collect huge amounts of key data.  For example, the company created a platform in Columbia not long ago—[quote] “a central online store where customers could share their location and place their order which was then sent via Whatsapp to their local grocer to be fulfilled…it digitized every (convenience) store, in every corner, in every block, in every neighborhood and connected them” [unquote] to its online store. Pervasive Surveillance on social media used for insight generation.  Alcohol companies deploy abundant “social listening” strategies that use sentiment mining, AI-driven computer vision and other tools to understand what is being said, by who and where, about the brand or topics that can be better leveraged for marketing; for example, to help pinpoint who are the most influential or useful voices to reach out to.   Much of this work is conducted 24/7 with real-time capabilities to take advantage of what is identified.  E-commerce: Online is increasingly an environment that seamlessly merges content, sales, marketing, and payment.  Alcoholic beverage companies are taking advantage of the powerful data driven promotion engines that operate these online sales channels, to make sure you see its product, place it in the shopping cart, and buy it.  Leading grocery and retail companies have also established their own highly developed online marketing operations that work with alcoholic beverages and other brands to showcase them on their e-commerce and online marketing sites; another source of privacy concern, as data sets merge].The use of neuroscience and other emotional technologies. Used to identify how to trigger non-rational responses to marketing, including measuring the emotional intensity of an ad as well as assessing how well a person’s memory encodes that message.  Alcohol companies (and many others) hook subjects up to EEGs and other similar tech to map their brainwaves responses to ads and content. Then an ad or message is honed and deployed.  These tools are also used “in flight” [during a running ad campaign] to correct errors and fine-tune their impact.Repositioning themselves as providers of economic opportunity and social good.  A recent trend by alcohol marketers is to position itself as generating economic opportunity for small businesses, as a strategy to deepen its connections for data.  For example, in Brazil last year during Carnival, one alcoholic beverages company used emails, push notifications, text messaging, an app, ecommerce platform, personalized QR codes and social media to support nearly 11,000 street vendors working out of their homes that ended up selling 200,000 of the brand’s products.  It established a critical digital link between the vendors, the alcohol brand, and its customers. Providers of technology:  This is especially true with branded alcoholic beverage company mobile apps, which are a key source of data gathering, monitoring of consumer behaviors (inc. geolocation), enrollment in loyalty programs and becomes an immediate influence and marketing channel. These apps are aksi used for sales and payments, creating another highly valuable data source.Penetrating further into the community.  Mobile and other digital marketing tech enables highly targeted, geo-aware, campaigns.  For example, in South Africa one brand—as part of a wider social media effort—used what’s known as DOOH—giving away software while encouraging its targets to [quote] create a personalized shout out to someone special and then select a digital billboard at a specific location for their message to be displayed on. [unquote]. Finally, creating impressive online experiences--such as music events to connect to youth.  In China, Jagermeister, who knew it was loosing its youth demographic, created [quote] “two days-worth of performance lineups and subculture experiences” [unquote] with livestreaming music and other ways to engage and interact with its young audience.  This event claimed to reach 200m impressions.  There are many more examples of such experiential virtual campaigns by alcoholic beverages companies.Policy Options:This is an optimum time to seek safeguards regarding the marketing of alcoholic beverages, to both underage consumers as well as address public health concerns overall on adult consumption.  Concern over the loss of privacy and autonomy, as well as its impact on youth development and health, is fueling greater interest by policymakers to regulate digital marketing. For example, here in the U.S. we have a new proposed rulemaking on surveillance marketing by the Federal Trade Commission, which offers multiple opportunities for the public health community to call for safeguards.    In the EU, there is the GDPR, Digital Services Act and other consumer legislation at the national and EU level that can be consideed.  The UK’s privacy commissioner has begun to enforce its new “Design Code” that governs how the online industry interacts with children and adolescents.  There are data protection commissioners in many countries, as well as varying laws, that should be assessed.   To advance these opportunities, public health advocates will likely find support from the global community of public interest privacy and consumer protection NGOs and scholars, who could be enlisted to identify the potential remedies and develop the appropriate regulatory complaints.   The WHO, of course, is in the forefront of documenting many of the practices we’ve discussed, including its recent work on digital marketing on unhealthy foods and beverages, breast milk substitutes, and alcohol marketing.  As these reports show, and as this conference reflects, the significant advances by these producers and marketers into the digital sphere, which operates now as such a key force in our lives, should be challenged.  Limits and expectations for this industry should be set, along with ongoing research into the effects of such marketing as well as analyzing its marketing operations. With timely action, we might be able to set a healthier course for the role that alcoholic beverages can play in our societies.  Thank you.
    Jeff Chester
  • A coalition of more than 100 organizations is sending two letters to Congress urging action. A letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, from 145 organizations, urges them to advance KOSA and COPPA to full Senate votes. A letter addressed to House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone and Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, from 158 organizations, urges them to introduce a House companion bill to KOSA. The advocates state in the letter to the Senate: “The enormity of the youth mental health crisis needs to be addressed as the very real harms of social media are impacting our children today. Taken together, the Kids Online Safety Act and the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act would prevent online platforms from exploiting young users’ developmental vulnerabilities and targeting them in unfair and harmful ways.” kosa_coppa_senate_leadership_letter_final_9.12.22-1.pdf, eandc_leadership_kosa_letter_final_9.12.22-1.pdf, kosa_coppa_rally_press_release_embargo_to_9_13.pdf
    person using smartphone by Priscilla Du Preez
  • Press Statement regarding today’s FTC Notice(link is external) of Proposed Rulemaking Regarding the Commercial Surveillance and Data SecurityKatharina Kopp, Deputy Director, Center for Digital Democracy:Today, the Federal Trade Commission issued its long overdue advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) regarding a trade regulation rule on commercial surveillance and data security. The ANPRM aims to address the prevalent and increasingly unavoidable harms of commercial surveillance. Civil society groups including civil rights groups, privacy and digital rights and children’s advocates had previously called on the commission to initiate this trade regulation rule to address the decades long failings of the commission to reign in predatory corporate practices online. CDD had called on the commission repeatedly over the last two decades to address the out-of-control surveillance advertising apparatus that is the root cause of increasingly unfair, manipulative, and discriminatory practices harming children, teens, and adults and which have a particularly negative impact on equal opportunity and equity.The Center for Digital Democracy welcomes this important initial step by the commission and looks forward to working with the FTC. CDD urges the commission to move forward expeditiously with the rule making and to ensure fair participation of stakeholders, particularly those that are disproportionately harmed by commercial surveillance.press_statement_8-11fin.pdf
  • CDD Comments to FTC for "Stealth" Marketing Inquiry The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) urges the FTC to develop and implement a set of policies designed to protect minors under 18 from being subjected to a host of pervasive, sophisticated and data-driven digital marketing practices. Children and teens are targeted by an integrated set of online marketing operations that are manipulative, unfair, invasive and can be especially harmful to their mental and physical health. The commission should make abundantly clear at the forthcoming October workshop that it understands that the many problems generated by contemporary digital marketing to youth transcend narrow categories such as “stealth advertising” and “blurred content.” Nor should it propose “disclosures” as a serious remedy, given the ways advertising is designed using data science, biometrics, social relationships and other tactics. Much of today’s commercially supported online system is purposefully developed to operate as “stealth”—from product development, to deployment, to targeting, tracking and measurement. Age-based cognitive development capacities to deal with advertising, largely based on pre-digital (especially TV) research, simply don’t correspond to the methods used today to market to young people. CDD calls on the commission to acknowledge that children and teenagers have been swept into a far reaching commercial surveillance apparatus.The commission should propose a range of safeguards to protect young people from the current “wild west” of omnichannel directed at them. These safeguards should address, for example, the role market research and testing of child and teen-directed commercial applications and messaging play in the development of advertising; how neuromarketing[pdf] practices designed to leverage a young person’s emotions and subconscious are used to deliver “implicit persuasion”; the integration by marketers and platforms of “immersive” applications, including augmented and virtual reality, designed to imprint brand and other commercial messages; the array of influencer-based strategies, including the extensive infrastructure used by platforms and advertisers to deliver, track and measure their impact; the integration of online marketing with Internet of Things objects, including product packaging and the role of QR codes, (experiential marketing) and digital out-of-the-home advertising screens; as well as contemporary data marketing operations that use machine learning and artificial intelligence to open up new ways for advertisers to reach young people online. AI services increasingly deliver personalized content online, further automating the advertising process to respond in real-time.It is also long overdue for the FTC to investigate and address how online marketing targets youth of color, who are subjected to a variety of advertising practices little examined by privacy and other regulators.The FTC should use all its authority and power to stop data-driven surveillance marketing to young people under 18; end the role sponsored influencers play; enact rules designed to protect the online privacy for teens 13-17 who are now subjected to ongoing tracking by marketers; and propose policies to redress the core methods employed by digital advertisers and online platforms to lure both children and teens. For more than 20 years, CDD and its allies have urged the FTC to address the ways digital marketing has undermined consumer protection and privacy, especially for children and adolescents. Since the earliest years of the commercial internet, online marketers have focused on young people, both for the revenues they deliver as well as to secure loyalty from what the commercial marketing industry referred to as “native” users. The threat to their privacy, as well as to their security and well-being, led to the complaint our predecessor organization filed in 1996, which spurred the passage of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998. COPPA has played a modest role protecting some younger children from experiencing the totality of the commercial surveillance marketing system. However, persistent failures of the commission to enforce COPPA; the lack of protections for adolescents (despite decades-long calls by advocates for the agency to act on this issue); and a risk-averse approach to addressing the methods employed by the digital advertising, even when applied to young people, have created ongoing threats to their privacy, consumer protection and public health. In this regard, we urge the commission to closely review the comments submitted in this proceeding by our colleague Fairplay and allies. We are pleased Fairplay supports these comments.If the FTC is to confront how the forces of commercial digital surveillance impact the general public, the building blocks to help do so can be found in this proceeding. Young people are exposed to the same unaccountable forces that are everywhere online: a largely invisible, ubiquitous, and machine-intelligence-driven system that tracks and assesses our every move, using an array of direct and indirect techniques to influence behaviors. If done correctly, this proceeding can help inform a larger policy blueprint for what policy safeguards are needed—for young people and for everyone else.The commission should start by reviewing how digital marketing and data-gathering advertising applications are “baked in” at the earliest stages of online content and device development. These design and testing practices have a direct impact on young people. Interactive advertising standards groups assess and certify a host of approved ad formats, including for gaming, mobile, native advertising, and streaming video. Data practices for digital advertising, including ways that ads are delivered through the behavioral/programmatic surveillance engines, as well as their measurement, are developed through collaborative work involving trade organizations and leading companies. Platforms such as Meta, as well as ad agencies, adtech companies, and brands, also have their own variations of these widely adopted formats and approaches. The industry-operated standards process for identifying new methods for digital advertising, including the real-world deployment of applications such “playable” ads or the ways advertisers can change its personalized messaging in real-time, have never been seriously investigated by the commission. A review of the companies involved show that many are engaged in digital marketing to young people.Another critical building block of contemporary digital marketing to address when dealing with youth-directed advertising is the role of “engagement.” As far back as 2006, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recognized that to effectively secure the involvement of individuals with marketing communications, at both the subconscious and conscious levels, it was necessary to define and measure the concept of engagement. IAB initially defined “Engagement… [as] turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context..” By 2012, there were more elaborate definitions identifying “three major forms of engagement… cognitive, physical and emotional.” A set of corresponding metrics, or measurement tools, were used, including those tracking “attention” (“awareness, interest, intention”); emotional and motor functioning identified through biometrics (“heart palpitations, pupil dilation, eye tracking”); and through omnipresent tracking of online behaviors (“viewability and dwell time, user initiated interaction, clicks, conversions, video play rate, game play”). Today, research and corresponding implementation strategies for engagement are an ongoing feature for the surveillance-marketing economy. This includes conducting research and implementing data-driven and other ad strategies targeting children—known as “Generation Alpha”—children 11 and younger—and teens—“Generation Z.”We will briefly highlight some crucial areas this proceeding should address:Marketing and product research on children and adolescents: An extensive system designed to ensure that commercial online content, including advertising and marketing, effectively solicits the interest and participation of young people, is a core feature of the surveillance economy. A host of companies are engaged in multi-dimensional market research, including panels, labs, platforms, streaming media companies, studios and networks, that have a direct impact on the methods used to advertise and market to youth. CDD believes that such product testing, which can rely on a range of measures designed to promote “implicit persuasion” should be considered an unfair practice generally. Since CDD and U.S. PIRG first urged the commission to investigate neuromarketing more than a decade ago, this practice has in ways that enable it to play a greater role influencing how content and advertising is delivered to young people.For example, MediaScience (which began as the Disney Media and Advertising Lab), serves major clients including Disney, Google, Warner Media, TikTok, Paramount, Fox and Mars. It conducts research for platforms and brands using such tools as “neurometrics (skin conductivity and heart rate), eye tracking, facial coding, and EEGs, among others, that assess a person’s responses across devices. Research is also conducted outside of the lab setting, such as directly through a subject’s “actual Facebook feed.” It has a panel of 80,000 households in the U.S., where it can deliver digital testing applications using a “variety of experimental designs… facilitated in the comfort of people’s homes.” The company operates a “Kids” and “Teens” media research panel. Emblematic of the far-reaching research conducted by platforms, agencies and brands, in 2021 TikTok’s “Marketing Science team” commissioned MediaScience to use neuromarketing research to test “strong brand recall and positive sentiment across various view durations.” The findings indicated that “ads on TikTok see strong brand recall regardless of view duration…. Regardless of how long an ad stays on screen, TikTok draws early attention and physiological engagement in the first few seconds.”NBCUniversal is one of the companies leveraging the growing field of “emotional analytics” to help advance advertising for streaming and other video outlets. Comcast’s NBCU is using “facial coding and eye-tracking AI to learn an audience’s emotional response to a specific ad.” Candy company Mars just won a “Best Use of Artificial Intelligence” award for its “Agile Creative Expertise (ACE) tool that “tracks attentional and emotional response to digital video ads.” Mars is partnering with neuromarketer Realeyes to “measure how audience’s attention levels respond as they view Mars' ads.Knowing what captures and retains attention or even what causes distraction, generated intelligence that enabled Mars to optimize the creative itself or the selection of the best performing ads across platforms including TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.” TikTok, Meta/Facebook, and Google have all used a variety of neuromarketing measures. The Neuromarketing Science and Business Association (NMSBA) includes many of the leading companies in this field as members. There is also an “Attention Council” within the digital marketing industry to help advance these practices, involving Microsoft, Mars, Coca-Cola, AB/InBev, and others. A commercial research infrastructure provides a steady drumbeat of insights so that marketers can better target young people on digital devices. Children’s streaming video company Wildbrain, for example, partnered with Ipsos for its 2021 research report, “The Streaming Generation,” which explained that “Generation Alpha [is] the most influential digital generation yet…. They have never known a world without digital devices at their fingertips, and for Generation Alpha (Gen A), these tech-first habits are now a defining aspect of their daily lives.” More than 2,000 U.S. parents and guardians of children 2-12 were interviewed for the study, which found that “digital advertising to Gen A influences the purchasing decisions of their parents…. Their purchasing choices, for everything from toys to the family car, are heavily influenced by the content kids are watching and the ads they see.” The report explains that among the “most popular requests” are toys, digital games, clothing, tech products and “in-game currencies” for Roblox and Fortnite.Determining the levels of “brand love” by children and teens, such as the use of “Kidfinity” and “Teenfinity” scores—“proprietary measures of brand awareness, popularity and love”—are regularly provided to advertisers. Other market researchers, such as Beano Studios, offer a “COPPA-compliant” “Beano Brain Omnibus” website that, through “games, quizzes, and bespoke questions” for children and teens, “allows bands to access answers to their burning questions.” These tools help marketers better identify, for example, the sites—such as TikTok—where young people spend time. Among the other services Beano provides, which reflect many other market-research companies’ capabilities, are “Real-time UX/UI and content testing—in the moment, digital experience exploration and evaluation of brands websites and apps with kids and teens in strawman, beta or live stages,” and “Beano at home—observing and speaking to kids in their own homes. Learning how and what content they watch.” Adtech and other data marketing applications: In order to conduct any “stealth” advertising inquiry, the FTC should review the operations of contemporary “Big Data”-driven ad systems that can impact young people. For example, Disney has an extensive and cutting-edge programmatic apparatus called DRAX(Disney Real-Time Ad Exchange) that is delivering thousands of video-based campaigns. DRAX supports “Disney Select,” a "suite of ad tech solutions, providing access to an extensive library of first-party segments that span the Disney portfolio, including streaming, entertainment and sports properties…. Continuously refined and enhanced based on the countless ways Disney connects with consumers daily. Millions of data inputs validated through data science…. Advertisers can reach their intended audiences by tapping into Disney’s proprietary Audience Graph, which unifies Disney’s first party data and audience modeling capabilities….” As of March 2022, Disney Select contained more than 1,800 “audience segments built from more than 100,000 audience attributes that fuel Disney’s audience graph.” According to Disney Advertising, its “Audience Graph” includes 100 million households, 160 million connected TV devices and 190 million device IDs, which enables modeling to target households and families. Children and teens are a core audience for Disney, and millions of their households receive its digital advertising. Many other youth-directed leading brands have developed extensive internal adtech applications designed to deliver ongoing and personalized campaigns. For example, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Mondelez have in-house capabilities and extensive partnerships that create targeted marketing to youth and others. The ways that “Big Data” analytics affect marketing, especially how insights can be used to target youth, should be reviewed. Marketers will say to the FTC that they are only targeting 18-year-olds and over, but an examination of their actual targets, and asking for child-related brand-safety data they collect, should provide the agency with a robust response to such claims.New methods to leverage a person’s informational details and then target them, especially without “cookies,” requires the FTC to address how this is being used to market to children and teens. This review should also be extended to “contextual” advertising, since that method has been transformed through the use of machine learning and other advanced tactics—called “Contextual 2.0.”Targeting youth of color: Black, Hispanic, Asian-American and other “multicultural” youth, as the ad industry has termed it, are key targets for digital advertising. An array of research, techniques, and services is focused on these young people, whose behaviors online are closely monitored by advertisers. A recent case study to consider is the McDonald’s U.S. advertising campaign designed to reverse its “decline with multicultural youth.” The goal of its campaign involving musician Travis Scott was to “drive penetration by bringing younger, multicultural customers to the brands… and drive immediate behavior too.” As a case study explains, “To attract multicultural youth, a brand… must have cultural cachet. Traditional marketing doesn’t work with them. They don’t watch cable TV; they live online and on social media, and if you are not present there you’re out of sight, out of mind.”It’s extremely valuable to identify some of the elements involved in this case, which are emblematic of the integrated set of marketing and advertising practices that accompany so many campaigns aimed at young people. These included working with a celebrity/influencer who is able to “galvanize youth and activate pop culture”; offering “coveted content—keepsakes and experiences to fuel the star’s fanbase, driving participation and sales”; employing digital strategies through a proprietary (and data-collecting) “app to bring fans something extra and drive digital adoption”; and focusing on “affordability”—to ensure “youth with smaller wallets” would participate. To illustrate how expenditures for paid advertising are much less relevant with digital marketing, McDonald’s explains that “Before a single dollar had been spent on paid media, purely on the strength of a few social posts by McDonald’s and Travis Scott, and reporting in the press, youth were turning up at restaurants across the country, asking for the Travis Scott meal.” This campaign was a significant financial success for McDonald’s. Its partnership with this influencer was effective as well in terms of “cultural response: hundreds of thousands of social media mentions and posts, fan-art and memes, unboxing videos of the meal…, fans selling food and stolen POS posters on eBay…, the multi merch drops that sold out in seconds, the framed receipts.” Online ads targeted to America’s diverse communities of young people, who can also be a member of a group at risk (due to finances, health, and the like) have long required an FTC investigation. The commission should examine the data-privacy and marketing practices on these sites, including those that communicate via languages other than English.Video and Video Games: Each of these applications have developed an array of targeted advertising strategies to reach young people. Streaming video is now a part of the integrated surveillance-marketing system, creating a pivotal new place to reach young people, as well as generate data for further targeting. Children and teens are viewing video content on Smart TVs, other streaming devices, mobile phones, tablets as well as computers. Household data where young people reside, which is amplified through the use of a growing number of “identity” tools that permit cross-device tracking, enable an array of marketing practices to flourish. The commission should review the data-gathering, ad-formatting, and other business practices that have been identified for these “OTT” services and how they impact children and teens. There are industry-approved ad-format guidelines for digital video and Connected TV. Digital video ads can use “dynamic overlays,” “shoppable and actionable video,” “voice-integrated video ads,” “sequential CTV creative,” and “creative extensions,” for example. Such ad formats and preferred practices are generally not vetted in terms of how they impact the interests of young people.Advertisers have strategically embedded themselves within the video game system, recognizing that it’s a key vantage point to surveil and entice young people. One leading quick-service restaurant chain that used video games to “reach the next generation of fast-food fans” explained that “gaming has become the primary source of entertainment for the younger generation. Whether playing video games or watching others play games on social platforms, the gaming industry has become bigger than the sports and music industries combined. And lockdowns during the global pandemic accelerated the trend. Gaming is a vital part of youth culture.” Illustrating that marketers understand that traditional paid advertising strategies aren’t the most effective to reach young people, the fast-food company decided to “approach gaming less like an advertising channel and more like an earned social and PR platform…. [V]ideo games are designed as social experiences.” As Insider Intelligence/eMarketer reported in June 2022, “there’s an ad format for every brand” in gaming today, including interstitial ads, rewarded ads, offerwalls, programmatic in-game ads, product placement, advergames, and “loot boxes.” There is also an “in-game advertising measurement” framework, recently released for public comment by the IAB and the Media Ratings Council. This is another example where leading advertisers, including Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo and Publicis, are determining how “ads that appear within gameplay” operate. These guidelines will impact youth, as they will help determine the operations of such ad formats as “Dynamic In-Game Advertising (DIGA)—Appear inside a 3D game environment, on virtual objects such as billboards, posters, etc. and combine the customization of web banners where ads rotate throughout the play session”; and “Hardcoded In-Game Ad Objects: Ads that have not been served by an ad server and can include custom 3D objects or static banners. These ads are planned and integrated into a video game during its design and development stage.” Leading advertising platforms such as Amazon sell as a package video ads reaching both streaming TV and gaming audiences. The role of gaming and streaming should be a major focus in October, as well as in any commission follow-up report.Influencers: What was once largely celebrity-based or word-of mouth style endorsements has evolved into a complex system including “nano-influencers (between 1,000 and 10,000 followers); micro-influencers (between 10,000 and 100,000); macro-influencers (between 100,000 and a million); and mega or celebrity influencers (1 million-plus followers). According to a recent report in the Journal of Advertising Research, “75 percent of marketers are now including social-media influencers in their marketing plans, with a worldwide market size of $2.3 billion in 2020.” Influencer marketing is also connected to social media marketing generally, where advertisers and others have long relied on a host of surveillance-related systems to “listen,” analyze and respond to people’s social online communications.Today, a generation of “content creators” (aka influencers) is lured into becoming part of the integrated digital sales force that sells to young people and others. From “unboxing videos” and “virtual product placement” in popular content, to “kidfluencers” like Ryan’s World and “brand ambassadors” lurking in video games, to favorite TikTok creators pushing fast-food, this form of digital “payola” is endemic online.Take Ryan’s World. Leveraging “more than one billion views” on YouTube, as well as a Nickelodeon show, has “catapulted him... to a global multi-category force,” notes his production and licensing firm. The deals include a “preschool product line in multiple categories, “best in class partnerships, and a “Tag with Ryan” app that garnered 16 million downloads. Brands seeking help selling products, says Ryan’s media agency, “can connect with its kid fanbase of millions that leverages our world-class portfolio of kid-star partners to authentically and seamlessly connect your brand with Generation Alpha across YouTube, social media, mobile games, and OTT channels—everywhere kids tune in!... a Generation Alpha focused agency that delivers more than 8 BILLION views and 100 MILLION unique viewers every month!” (its emphasis). Also available is a “custom content and integrations” feature that can “create unique brand experiences with top-tier kid stars.” Ryan’s success is not unique, as more and more marketers create platforms and content, as well as merge companies, to deliver ads and marketing to children and teens. An array of influencer marketing platforms that offer “one-stop” shopping for brands to employ influencers, including through the use of programmatic marketing-like data practices (to hire people to place endorsements, for example) is a core feature of the influencer economy. There are also software programs so brands and marketers can automate their social influencer operations, as well as social media “dashboards” that help track and analyze social online conversations, brand mentions and other communications. The impact of influencers is being measured through a variety of services, including neuromarketing. Influencers are playing a key role in “social commerce,” where they promote the real-time sales of products and services on “shoppable media.” U.S. social commerce sales are predicted to grow to almost $80 billion in 2025 from its 2022 estimated total of $45.74 billion. Google, Meta, TikTok, Amazon/Twitch and Snapchat all have significant influencer marketing operations. As Meta/Facebook recently documented, there is also a growing role for “virtual” influencers that are unleashed to promote products and services. While there may be claims that many promotions and endorsements should be classified as “user generated content” (UGC), we believe the commission will find that the myriad influencer marketing techniques often play a role spurring such product promotion.The “Metaverse”: The same forces of digital marketing that have shaped today’s online experience for young people are already at work organizing the structure of the “metaverse.” There are virtual brand placements, advertisements, and industry initiatives on ad formats and marketing experiences. Building on work done for gaming and esports, this rapidly emerging marketing environment poses additional threats to young people and requires timely commission intervention.Global Standards: Young people in the U.S. have fewer protections than they do in other countries and regions, including the European Union and the United Kingdom. In the EU, for example, protections are required for young people until they are 18 years of age. The impact of the GDPR, the UK’s Design Code, the forthcoming Digital Services Act (and even some self-regulatory EU initiatives by companies such as Google) should be assessed. In what ways do U.S.-based platforms and companies provider higher or more thorough safeguards for children when they are required to do so outside of this country? The FTC has a unique role to ensure that U.S. companies operating online are in the forefront—not in the rear—of protecting the privacy and interests of children.The October Workshop: Our review of the youth marketing landscape is just a partial snapshot of the marketplace. We have not discussed “apps” and mobile devices, which pose many concerns, including those related to location, for example. But CDD hopes this comment will help inform the commission about the operations of contemporary marketing and its relationship to young people. We call on the FTC to ensure that this October, we are presented with an informed and candid discussion of the nature and impact of today’s marketing system on America’s youth.ftcyouthmarketing071822.pdf
    Jeff Chester