A coalition of 20 advocacy groups that included children’s privacy and health experts urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Thursday to crack down on “unfair” design features that entice kids to spend more time on popular apps and social media sites.
In particular, they asked FTC regulators to prohibit sites like YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram, as well as popular video game apps like My Talking Tom, from offering unpredictable rewards to keep kids online. It’s a technique casinos use to keep adults playing slot machines.
In a petition to the FTC, the children’s advocates warned that such practices could foster or aggravate anxiety, depression, eating disorders or self-harm among children and teenagers.
The FTC “can and must establish rules of the road to clarify when these design practices cross the line into unlawful unfairness, thus protecting vulnerable users from unfair harms,” the petition said.
The plea comes as lawmakers, regulators and children’s groups are also trying to curb practices on sites like YouTube and TikTok such as data harvesting and attention hacking with regards to kids. Essentially it would be to stop features like automatic notices to drive user engagement.
Last year in Britain, for example, safeguards were instituted that required online media likely used by minors to turn off certain features by default for younger users, such as barraging users with notifications at all hours of the night.
Outfit7, the developer of My Talking Tom, did not immediately return a New York Times’ email seeking comment.