Four out of five apps for preschoolers designed to make them money: Study

Four out of five apps for preschoolers designed to make them money: Study

According to a new study, four out of five apps used by preschoolers are said to monetize their digital experiences.

Researchers found that children under the age of 5, particularly those from low-income households, are often subjected to devious advertising and other tactics designed to profit from their play.

According to the results, nearly 99 percent of the children surveyed had at least one manipulative design in one of their most-used apps, and teens whose parents are less educated were more likely to use apps that use manipulative methods that increase ad exposure.

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

The lead author Dr. Jenny Radesky said: “Our findings suggest that design features created to serve the interests of tech companies towards children are widespread and we need more regulation.

“These design tricks are disproportionately found in apps used by children from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, suggesting injustices in the use of young children’s attention for monetization.”

Researchers analyzed apps used by 160 children aged 3 to 5, looking for so-called “dark patterns” or tricks designed to prolong play, to get kids to engage with the app again engage them, pressure them to buy, or get them to watch advertisements.

Four out of five apps used such manipulative designs — and they were most common in apps used by children from households whose parents had lower educational attainment than children whose parents had college degrees.

Such tactics were also most prevalent in apps categorized as “general audience,” according to results published in the JAMA Network Open.

Examples of such designs included pop-up messages such as “come back tomorrow and get a kite” to entice a return to play.

Another explained: “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 idle to let them play.

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

Another character yells “Save me!” with fabricated time pressure from a countdown clock displayed when the game is paused to encourage extended play.

Girl in Japanese Apple Store
According to a new study, four out of five apps used by preschoolers are said to monetize their digital experiences. Pictured: A girl tries on an iPhone X at the Apple Omotesando store in Tokyo, Japan, on November 3, 2017.
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Lures like stickers or trophies have also been used to entice users into repeatedly engaging with the app.

Researchers found that an app’s success is often based on metrics, such as: B. how long and how often users interact with them, which is probably the reason for design tricks aimed at achieving such goals.

However, they said that adolescents may not be able to recognize these tricks, e.g. B. to differentiate between a screen that is supposed to sell something and a part of their game, or to recognize that time pressure is being created.

“Kids love their favorite media characters, so they’re particularly vulnerable to pressure from them, or from virtual rewards flashing across the screen every time they’re at a point where they might decide to step away from the app to solve,” Radesky said.

“Adult users may expect to be targeted by ads about apps on digital devices. But kids are too young to understand this kind of compelling design that disrupts their play.

“Parents often say their kids refuse to hand over devices when it’s time to do something else — like get to dinner or get ready for bed — and the game-extending design tricks we found likely contribute to this avoidable source of family stress.”

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

Radesky, developmental 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 deluge of for-profit design that currently exists is dominating the market.

“We have an opportunity to encourage lawmakers to pass legislation that will hold industry accountable for considering the best interests of children, which includes eliminating manipulative design.”

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

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