Is a “free” game app taking your child for a ride?

Technology

A ‘Cyber Monday‘ warning today;  Are kids game apps manipulating your children into purchases and illegally tracking and sharing their information?

Senator Richard Blumenthal asked the Federal Trade Commission Monday to investigate these ‘free apps’ aimed at the Pre-K market.

Character voice on ‘free’ kids app,  “If you want to buy a full version of the game with bonuses and without ads please ask your parents to get it.”

That’s an example of a free app that is targeted to what’s called the “Pre-K Market.” Pre school age children that play a game on the “free” app and are lured into more game play that requires a purchase.

 “Young children do not have the cognitive ability to process what they are seeing,” says Dr. Patricia Garcia, a Pediatrician at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.  Pediatricians say that very young children do not have the ability to understand that a commercial can be disguised as a video game.

“To make things worse, the characters in the games actually make explicit sales pitches to the kids who are playing these games, to make the in-app purchases and they express disappointment if the children don’t buy the in app purchases,” says Josh Golin of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that the hidden commercials were much more prevalent in so called ‘free’ apps than in paid game apps. Michael Robb of Common Sense Media saying, “This is really an issue of digital equity, because people who download free apps are more likely to not have the means to afford paid apps.”

Senator Blumenthal says this is a violation of the ‘Children’s Online Protection Act,’ and to make matters worse, the apps are tracking and storing information about your children adding, “The business model here is to collect information, track children, invade privacy, sell the data.”

Dr. Garcia recommends that you play these games with your kids, to help them understand what’s actually going on and to steer kids to other entertainment forms.,  like TV, movies and board games.

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