MCLEAN, Va., August 2, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The BBB’s National Programs Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) has found Firefly Games, owner and operator of LOL Surprise! The Room Makeover app, in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and CARU’s self-regulatory guidelines on advertising and children’s online privacy. Firefly Games has agreed to correct the violations.
LOL Surprise! Room Makeover app, with LOL Surprise! dolls and characters licensed from MGA Entertainment, have come to CARU’s attention through its routine monitoring of children’s content. Given the topic of the children’s application of LOL Surprise! dolls, aimed at children four years and older, its use of animated characters, fun background music, and the simplistic nature of the gameplay, as well as information provided by Firefly Games that the app has adult users with a nostalgic connection to LOL Surprise! content, CARU has determined that the Firefly Games app is a “mixed audience” children’s app and is therefore subject to the guidelines of COPPA and CARU.
Children’s privacy issues
Based on its review of the privacy policies and discussions with Firefly Games, CARU also learned that the two privacy policies had conflicting representations about the use of SDKs, cookies, web beacons, geolocation data and third-party advertisements, which were also contrary. to actual Firefly Games practices. For example, policies were not consistent or clear in explaining what type of geolocation information was collected and for what purposes. Firefly Games collected coarse geolocation information, rather than precise geolocation information covered by COPPA, but this was not clear in its privacy policies.
Children’s advertising issues
CARU’s advertising guidelines clearly state that advertisers must not manipulate or mislead children. Conduct that would violate this provision includes the use of deceptive door openers and other tactics that trick or manipulate a child into engaging in advertisements, downloading and installing unnecessary apps, or making unintentional purchases.
CARU discovered that the LOL Surprise! The Room Makeover app was showing multiple advertisements, often appearing at the end of a game level and advertising other apps, and the advertisements could not be stopped or removed until users downloaded the advertised application or watched the entire advertisement. These video ads often included interactive features that mimicked app gameplay, encouraging players to interact with the ad. CARU found that these ads excessively interfered with gameplay, forced children to download and install unnecessary applications, and often provided unclear and unobtrusive methods for children to exit the ad and return to the game. CARU do not require in-app advertisements to provide an exit method, they specify that when an exit method is offered, it must be clear and visible.
Although Firefly Games challenged CARU’s findings on the grounds that the app had undergone a “rigorous review process to meet Google’s family advertising guidelines”, CARU made it clear that a developer of apps may not rely on any platform’s guidelines or requirements in lieu of complying with the CARU Advertising Guidelines.
Additionally, to avoid blurring the lines between advertising and non-advertising content, CARU’s advertising guidelines make it clear that advertisers should take great care to be transparent when advertising to children and that advertisements should be easily identifiable as advertising. The app failed to use simple, clear, and visible language to notify children when they selected a button that would require them to watch or interact with an ad, and instead used a series of confusing buttons such as “Press to continue” and “Exit” and the “>>” symbol to let children know that pressing these buttons will take them to watch an ad or make a purchase.
Finally, CARU found that the app displayed advertisements that were dangerous and inappropriate for children. CARU’s Advertising Guidelines state that advertisements must not include material or link to content that may unduly frighten or cause anxiety in children, that depicts or encourages behavior that is inappropriate for children (for example, violence or sexuality), or is otherwise inappropriate for children.
CARU recommended that Firefly Games take the following corrective actions:
Provide clear and understandable notice about its children’s information collection and use practices.
Provide a COPPA-compliant way to obtain verifiable parental consent.
Design its app with children in mind to ensure that it does not cheat or manipulate children.
Provide clear and visible information on all advertisements.
Make sure that all methods offered by the app to exit ads are clear and visible.
Monitor and ensure advertisements are safe and appropriate for children.
Firefly Games participated in CARU’s Self-Regulatory Program and provided CARU with a detailed plan to address the concerns raised in the decision to comply with COPPA and CARU’s Advertising and Privacy Guidelines.
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About National BBB Programs: National BBB programs are where businesses turn to build consumer confidence and consumers are heard. The non-profit organization creates a fairer level playing field for businesses and a better experience for consumers through the development and delivery of effective third-party accountability and dispute resolution programs. Assuming its role as an independent organization since the restructuring of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in June 2019, BBB National Programs now oversees more than a dozen national industry self-regulatory programs and continues to evolve its work and increase its impact by providing business advice and promoting best practices in areas such as advertising, marketing to children and privacy. To learn more, visit bbbprograms.org.
About the Children’s Advertising Review Unit: The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), a National Programs Division of the BBB and the nation’s first Safe Harbor program under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) , helps businesses comply with laws and guidelines that protect children from misleading or inappropriate advertising and ensure that, in an online environment, children’s data is collected and handled responsibly. Where advertising or data collection practices are misleading, inappropriate or inconsistent with laws and guidelines, CARU seeks to make a difference through voluntary business cooperation and, where appropriate, enforcement action.
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