Four out of five apps for preschoolers designed to earn money from them: study

Four out of five apps used by preschoolers are designed to earn money from their digital experiences, a new study reveals.

Researchers have found that children under 5, especially those from low-income households, are often exposed to devious advertisements and other tactics designed to profit from their gambling.

According to the results, almost 99% of the children studied had at least one manipulative design in one of their most-used apps, and young people whose parents had little education were more likely to use apps that incorporated manipulative methods that increase exposure to advertising.

Four out of five apps used by preschoolers are designed to earn money from their digital experiences, a new study reveals. In this photo, a boy plays with an iPhone at Brazil’s first Apple store minutes after it opened to the public for the first time in the Village Mall on February 15, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Lead author Dr Jenny Radesky said: “Our findings suggest that design features created to serve the interests of tech companies rather than children are common, and we need more regulations in place.

“These design tricks occur disproportionately in apps used by children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, suggesting inequities in how young children’s attention is harnessed for monetization.”

The researchers analyzed the apps used by 160 children aged 3 to 5 and looked for what some experts called “dark patterns” or tricks aimed at prolonging play, encouraging children to re-engage with the app. , exert pressure to buy or make them watch advertisements.

Four out of five apps used such manipulative designs – and they were more prevalent in apps used by children from households whose parents had lower levels of education than children whose parents were college graduates.

Such tactics were also most prevalent in apps classified as “mainstream,” according to findings published in JAMA Network Open.

Examples of such designs included pop-up messages such as “Come back tomorrow and get a dragon” to entice returning to the game.

Another said, “You can play with these cute little animals for a small fee. Just ask your parents” to encourage in-app purchases.

Characters in some apps say things like “Don’t just stand there, do something!” when children are inactive to get them to play.

Prompts to sign up for free trials of a paid version of the app showed a character crying when the child didn’t follow the prompt.

Another character shouts “save me!” with time pressure crafted from a countdown, shown at a pause in the game to incentivize extended gameplay.

Girl in Japan Apple store
Four out of five apps used by preschoolers are designed to earn money from their digital experiences, a new study reveals. Pictured: A girl tries out an iPhone X at Apple Omotesando store on November 3, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan.
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Decoys including stickers or trophies have also been used to trick users into interacting with the app repeatedly.

The researchers noted that an app’s success is often based on metrics such as the duration and frequency of user interaction, which is likely the reason for design tricks aimed at achieving such goals.

But they said young people might be unable to identify these tricks, such as distinguishing between a screen meant to sell something and being part of their game or recognizing that time pressures are fabricated.

“Kids love their favorite media characters, so they may be particularly sensitive to pressure from them, or virtual rewards displayed on the screen whenever they’re at a time when they might choose to opt out. of the app,” Radesky said.

“Adult users can expect to be targeted by in-app ads on digital devices. But children are too young to understand this kind of persuasive design, which disrupts their game.

“Parents often say their kids refuse to put the devices back when it’s time to do something else – like coming to dinner or getting ready for bed – and the gameplay-extending design tricks we found likely contribute to that. avoidable source of family stress.”

She said the findings should encourage government, regulatory or industry leaders to make changes that ensure children’s well-being and design needs are considered before digital products hit the market.

Radesky, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School, added, “Children are avid users of the digital world and deserve access to its opportunities without having to navigate the glut of profit-centric design that currently exists. dominates the market.

“We have an opportunity to encourage lawmakers to pass legislation that holds industry accountable for considering children’s best interests, which includes eliminating manipulative design.”

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

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