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Last update: August 2021

5 mins to read - 2021/08/20

Mobile Marketing Towards Kids: Why Children’s Privacy Matters

Many of us remember watching toy commercials between Saturday morning cartoons as kids. As adults, we know that marketing methods have become much more sophisticated. The past 30 years have seen the invention of new, more immersive media. And with 85% of adults in America now owning a smartphone, we have the potential to be flooded with ads 24/7 – through our social media, while we’re streaming music, and while using mobile apps. This raises important questions, especially when it comes to marketing towards kids, their personal identifying information (PII), and why children’s privacy matters.

In the eyes of the FTC’s COPPA regulation, “children” means a user base younger than 13. When targeting a user base in the US, every mobile app needs to ask themselves the following questions

  • How can I market towards children while complying with COPPA guidelines?
  • How can I market towards children ethically while remaining respectful of the app-user relationship?
  • Should I be marketing towards children at all?

Download OpenBack’s whitepaper outlining our unique approach to data privacy and regulation compliance:

marketing towards kids

Why Both Children’s Data Privacy and Ethical Marketing Towards Kids Matters

Marketing is a given in the modern era. According to Statista, 96.9% of apps on Android and 93.4% of app on iOS are free to install. And, as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Those apps need to pay for themselves somehow. So unless you are confident enough that your app will draw in users even if you put a price-tag on it, you will make your profit largely in one of two ways:

  • in-app purchases: whether you’re purchasing in-game currency, an item to be used to improve app UX, a subscription to a more premium app experience, etc.
  • in-app advertising: in which your app receives revenues for the amount of ads your user views

And, although there is a dark side to highly personalized and intrusive mobile marketing, many consumers appreciate the convenience of receiving targeted ads. Nothing is more annoying than being inundated with advertising for products that you have no interest in. Targeted, personalized ads can even be a way of connecting a consumer with a product or service they genuinely need, but didn’t know how to seek out themselves. In fact mobile marketing towards kids needs to be targeted to an extent. If kids are viewing in-app ads for, say, Smirnoff vodka or online gambling sites there’s going to be a huge problem with parents.

However, a growing concern among parents is that they don’t know who has access to their kids’ data, or what is being done with it. In the past few years, the FTC has made strides in both updating COPPA for the smartphone age and prosecuting app publishers who violate the data privacy of under-13s. Apple has also been a frontrunner for increased data security and transparency for iOS device users, with their controversial introduction of App Tracking Transparency for iOS 14.5. Google likewise seeks to phase out all 3rd-party cookies on the Google Chrome browser by 2022, to be replaced by FLoCs. Clearly, children’s privacy matters enormously among both among parents and guardians as well as regulatory bodies.

What Practices Should You Follow for Responsible Marketing Towards Kids?

Kids are more impressionable and less savvy than adults when it comes to viewing ads. With that in mind, the golden rule is: be straightforward. Don’t try to trick or manipulate them. For example, a kids’ app in Slovenia drew enormous backlash from industry watchdogs when they depicted a cartoon character crying when a user refused to make an in-app purchase. In light of the fact that kids are being inundated with mobile marketing that’s largely unsupervised, many national organizations are working to solidify guidelines for what’s appropriate marketing behavior towards kids. For example, Europe’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) states the following:

“Advertising shall not cause moral or physical detriment to minors, and shall, therefore, comply with the following criteria for their protection:

a. It shall not directly exhort minors to buy a product or a service by exploiting their inexperience or credulity;

b. It shall not directly encourage minors to persuade their parents or others to purchase the goods or services being advertised;

c. It shall not exploit the special trust minors place in parents, teachers or other persons;

d. It shall not unreasonably show minors in dangerous situations”

Most parents have less tolerance for ads in educational or learning apps for children, so that’s something to consider. There is also a fine line to walk between sending appropriate (i.e. targeted) ads or personalized push notifications to kids and being overly invasive with their data. Apps based in the US, or who have users younger than 13 in the US, fall under COPPA restrictions, and thus have to be more transparent with their data processing practices. If you are reaching out to parents for their consent to access their kids’ data, honesty is the best policy. Explain to them what benefit data processing has to the utility of the app. Another good practice is to only track the data that absolutely must be tracked. And always make sure you include a privacy policy in an easy-to-access part of your website.

Be COPPA Compliant By Default With OpenBack

For mobile apps and games looking to do their due diligence when it comes to children’s privacy, choosing a mobile engagement platform matters. OpenBack is the only push notification SDK with a default data privacy mode, meaning your app will be able to leverage user data for highly personalized push notifications while remaining 100% COPPA and GDPR compliant. Because of OpenBack’s patented hybrid platform that uses edge computing to process user data directly on the device, instead of sending it to a 3rd-party cloud server, data never has to leave the device. What’s more, it remains entirely in the user’s ownership. Because of this, mobile apps can send targeted push notifications while complying with COPPA and other regulations, without obtaining parental advise beforehand.

To learn more about OpenBack’s unique take on mobile engagement, get in touch with one of our experts for a consultation.

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