Mobile Phones and Kids: Here are the tricks and sneaky commercials used in apps to make money (and make kids addicted)

Children, including those under the age of 6, are increasingly using their parents’ mobile phones to play and have fun. And unknowingly, they are bombarded with advertisements and targeted by underhanded strategies that make them addicted and pressure their parents to pay money, as revealed by a new study.

In recent years there has been a real boom of app and of game for tablets and smartphones designed for i.a. children. If the little ones used to spend many hours in front of the television in their free time, they now spend a lot of time “fiddling” with their parents’ mobile phones. Many children are now surprisingly good at using new technologies.

But beware, most of the apps designed for preschoolers adopt strategies, thanks to which companies have designed them, on the one hand are able to turn the little ones into employees, and on the other hand draw benefit from them through ads. This is confirmed by a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Our results suggest that design traits created to serve the interests of technology companies in relation to children are common and we need more regulation, “explains Dr. Jenny Radesky, Pediatrician of Developmental Behavior at Mott Health CS Mott Children’s Hospital, University of Michigan.These design tricks are more disproportionately recurring in apps used by children with disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, suggesting inequalities in how young children’s attention is harnessed for revenue generation.

To conduct the research, the team of experts analyzed the apps used by 160 children between the ages of three and five, in search of the tricks that aim to expand the play experience, encourage children to use the app again and push for to make a purchase.

manipulation app children


What emerged is alarming: only 20% of the apps surveyed did not actually have features related to what researchers call “manipulative design.” Children in the lower socioeconomic strata have played apps with a more manipulative design.

This means that 4 out of 5 apps manage to make money by taking advantage of children’s play, especially those with parents with a low level of education.

The most commonly used manipulation techniques

But what are the tricks that the creators of apps for kids use the most? Here are the most common manipulative strategies, revealed by the University of Michigan study:

  • Pop-up messages – for example “Come back tomorrow and get a kite” – to entice the kids to use the app again or with fonts – like “You can play with these cute little animals for a small fee. Ask your parents” – which encourages parents to act
  • Presence of animated characters which invites children to play when they are inactive, through phrases like “Do not stay there, do something!”
  • Registration requests e.g.r free trial versions of a paid version of the app, shows a character crying if the child has not responded to the request
  • The use of animated characters asking children to be rescued shows the countdown to encourage them to play as quickly as possible
  • The use of “bait”such as stickers and trophies to entice users to repeatedly interact with the app (e.g. earn accumulating daily rewards)
  • Inserts roadblock ads which remains active for 20 seconds and invites the player to interact before the X is displayed to close the window

Of course, children do not have the critical spirit and knowledge to understand that these are traps set by the creators of apps to make money.

“Adult users can expect to be targeted by app ads on digital devices. But children are too young to understand this kind of compelling design that disrupts their play. Parents often report that their children refuse to hand over the devices when it is time to do something else, such as have dinner or get ready for bed, and the design tricks we’ve found to prolong the game are likely to contribute to this avoidable source of family stress. , which protects the little ones and puts an end to these manipulation strategies.

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Source: Journal of the American Medical Association

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