New York, NY – March 10, 2014 – The Children’s Advertising Review Unit has recommended that OutFit 7 modify its “Talking Tom Cat 2” app to better disclose advertising content and disable links to sites that do not age screen. The company has done so.
CARU is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
CARU monitors and reviews advertising directed to children. It initiates and receives complaints about advertising and privacy practices, and determines whether such practices are in compliance with CARU’s guidelines.
CARU also monitors websites and apps for compliance with its guidelines, including guidelines on Online Privacy Protection, as well as with the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA.)
The Talking Tom Cat 2 App features an antic, animated cat. Through user-controlled buttons, Tom will talk in a funny voice, get scared, be hit by a pillow or make funny noises.
While playing the game, the user sees a large banner across the top of the screen that advertises various other game apps. Many of these games are also developed by Out Fit 7 Ltd., and are available for purchase in the Apple App Store. Moreover, the user is frequently interrupted by large pop-up advertisements, which take up the entire screen.
Upon CARU’s initial review, none of the advertisements were labeled as ads.
The app includes a Child Mode setting that the user can control at will, regardless of age because there is no age-screening used. When the user exits Child Mode, he or she may link to Twitter, a website that does not age screen.
In this case, CARU examined whether child users would understand that the in-app advertisements were actually ads and not game content and determined that a child might not have that understanding.
CARU considered, but was not persuaded by the operator’s argument that its ads were presented in accordance with industry standards. Rather, CARU found that the advertising was presented in a manner that blurred the distinction between the advertising and the content in a manner that would be misleading to children.
CARU also had to determine in this case whether the App should implement an age-screening mechanism prior to collecting or allowing children to share personal information.
In this case the app included a child mode that could be turned off by the user. Turning off the child mode feature prompted a pop-up screen with links to Facebook and Twitter. Twitter is not intended for use by children under 13 years of age and the app does not age screen to determine the age of its visitors before allowing them to turn off the child mode.
CARU recommended that prior to allowing the child mode to be turned off, the operator implement a neutral age-screening process and remove the link to Twitter.
The company, in its advertiser’s statement, took issue with certain of CARU’s conclusions but said that it had “decided to mark banner ads in the app as advertisements in order to strengthen our family friendly reputation,” add an age gate and remove direct links to social media sites.