Disturbing, uncloseable, emotionally manipulative advertising infests childrens' apps

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/10/30/disturbing-uncloseable-emoti.html




The Cult of Moloch and the Cult of Mammon are very much partners in late-stage-capitalist America.

Meanwhile, wealthy people who make and understand and sell the technology are taking a different approach with their own kids:


An even better solution - use the brain.

If something is “free” then the first question should be - how does the developer/publisher of this application pay their bills? Most are not doing this out of altruism and e.g. Google Play is literally infested with crap like that “Talking Tom” (that alone has at least 6 different versions).

Seriously, the fact that the app contains ads and in-app purchases is right there, right next to the install button.

Of course, that doesn’t excuse the sleazy and unethical ads (that should be prosecuted, IMO) but as a parent, do you really need to give a phone or a tablet with an ad-ridden personal data mining user tracking crapware to your kid to keep them entertained? Especially when you know that some ads are going to be there?


I guess it’s never to young to teach your children about the horrors of capitalism.


It happens.



I actually feel that not all IAP is bad; for example, if an app has “remove ads” IAP, I’ll give it a chance. If an app has cooldown timers that can be skipped by watching a video, and no IAP to remove timers, I’ll trash it.

I have no problem supporting app developers if I enjoy my time with their app. If they start throwing up barriers to “ensure a constant revenue stream from their installed base”, fuck them most thoroughly.

Treat me like a valued customer, and you’ve got me. Treat me like a cash cow, and I’m gone.

Luckily my own kids are adults now, so they don’t have to be subjected to this shit. Unfortunately, they are being subjected to capitalism run amok in plenty of other ways, since we aren’t among the gilded one percent, which also sucks.


…a practice known as host-selling…

Host: n. A cell or organism which harbors another organism or biological entity, usually a parasite.


Sure, I didn’t mean it as saying that all ads are bad and in-app purchases are evil. Both have their place.

However, using this kind of stuff in applications targeting children is unethical at least, plain illegal at worst (there are much stronger laws regulating advertising in Europe, for example, and these apps are available here). These companies were so far lucky that this stuff was mostly flying under the radar of the regulators so far - they mostly focus on TV and traditional media that are easier to “police” than the spaghetti of ad networks and brokers.

I think it will take only one high profile case where an application developer/publisher will get an enormous fine (this lame “sorry, I am not responsible for the ads the network is pushing into my app” excuse won’t fly - the law doesn’t care where the ad comes from but who shows it - that one is responsible) and this crap will disappear in a jiffy. If the developers of “Talking Tom” (or many other similar apps) can’t make their ends meet without resorting to ads and in-app purchases with dirty sales tactics, then good riddance - they didn’t have a solid business model that wouldn’t rely on preying on the vulnerable to begin with.


I miss “Zillions” magazine - AKA consumer reports for kids. Each issue taught different deceptive tactics (batteries not included, that you don’t get ALLLLL the hot wheels in the commercial going on the race track etc)

They also emphasized reading reviews before purchasing toys.


Reviewing apps won’t help. Online advertising is very dynamic and there is no way to know what sort of ads will be displayed in the future. Advertising middleware gets bought and sold and most are plugged into ad exchanges that will scrape the bottom of the barrel if there’s nothing more appropriate to show. Some of these ad middleware companies care about ad quality but that stance is also very malleable over time.


Welcome to BoingBoing!

Great first post, if I may say so.


The Khan Academy app is great and clean, but is also pretty overtly educational, so kids with options will probably sniff out the vegetables. We keep our daughter on a starvation diet, app-wise (we’re pretty liberal with TV) so she eats it up.


Stuff like this is why I think young children should not have smartphones.


I don’t understand the point of this story, is there supposed to be a part 2? These ads are supplied by companies, ad networks, and there is no mention of them here.

From the Guardian article…

The company said it had no role in placing or commissioning any ad in the app, arguing that it a third party “might have found a temporary means of exploiting the app by inserting malicious ad code”.

It added that it was likely to have been by someone looking to “damage Plymouth Associates’ reputation”.

They create poorly designed harmful technology and blame their imaginary unnamed enemies. These sorts of marketers are nearly as sleazy as MLM scammers.



NYT is limiting article access to 5 per month; suggest you use an incognito browser.


Today I reported an ad on another site, delivered via Google AdSense. The target site was obviously hacked and the page pretended to be CBC News with a story about their miracle dick pill. Probably whack-a-mole and it’ll be back from some other hacked site.

If AdSense doesn’t have the smarts to detect something as obvious as that, I doubt the app ad exchanges will do better.

I’m in favor of the rule, “Don’t let your children play with ad-driven applications.”

I know, that’s not 100% easy, especially since even apps you pay for can still try to push upgrades and other in-app purchases. Kids under 13 probably shouldn’t have access to in-app purchases, though.

I absolutely loved that magazine (and Penny Power) as a kid (and regular CR too… I was a weird kid).