Local Campaign Files Complaint Against Mobile Apps For Babies

The advocacy group is aiming their efforts at apps developed by Fisher-Price and Open Solutions.

Does "screen time" promote learning for young children, or can it be detrimental to their development? The verdict is out until more research can be done. Baby Phont image via Shutterstock.

Baby with phone image via Shutterstock.

Remember that baby who was playing with her dad’s cell phone last month when she accidentally bought him a car? Well, it turns out that may the least of our worries when it comes to babies and mobile apps. According to a Boston-based advocacy group that filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday, two popular baby app developers (Fisher-Price and Open Solutions) are trying to trick parents into thinking that online games will make their kids smarter.

The advocacy group, called “The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood”, is the same group who claimed in 2006 that the line of “Baby Einstein” videos and tapes were ineffective, leading to nationwide consumer refunds of the products. By filing a complaint, the organizers of the campaign hope to begin a federal investigation into the marketing practices of Fisher-Price’s “Laugh and Learn” mobile apps and Open Solution’s games, including “Baby Hear and Read” and “Baby First Puzzle”, according to a report from the Associated Press.

“Everything we know about brain research and child development points away from using screens to educate babies,’’ said Susan Linn, the group’s director, in the report. ‘‘The research shows that machines and screen media are a really ineffective way of teaching a baby language. What babies need for healthy brain development is active play, hands-on creative play and face-to-face’’ interaction.

Fisher-Price claims that its programming can teach babies about body parts and language, while Open Solutions claims that its apps allow babies to practice logic and motor skills. The advocacy group, however, alleges that the companies are violating truth-in-advertising laws when they claim to be teaching babies anything at all, mostly because the benefits of screen time for babies have not yet been adequately researched. In a comment to the Associated Press, Open Solutions said that its products are not a substitute for human interaction. The company also specified that many of its apps have received positive reviews:

‘‘We also don’t say ‘get this game and let it teach your child everything,’’’ the company wrote. ‘‘We assume (the) child is playing the game with parent/sister/babysitter. We think we have apps that can help parents with babies, either by entertaining babies or help them see new things, animals, hear their sounds, etc.’’

What does the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood hope to achieve? In a country where more than half of adults own a smartphone (according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project) Linn believes that marketing technology products to young children and their parents without evidence of the benefits is both misleading and unethical. According to the AP report, this is the campaign’s first complaint against the mobile app industry in what will likely be a larger push to hold businesses accountable in their marketing to young children in the future. According to the report:

Linn said her organization targeted Fisher-Price and Open Solutions because their baby apps were among the most popular and because they represented an overall trend of deceptive marketing practices by app developers, both big and small.

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