US advocacy group challenges apps for children

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 11:22pm


Smartphones don't make smart babies, an advocacy group has declared in a complaint to the US government about mobile apps that claim to help babies learn.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, whose allegations against "Baby Einstein" videos eventually led to consumer refunds, is urging federal regulators to examine the marketing practices of Fisher-Price's "Laugh & Learn" mobile apps and Open Solutions' games such as "Baby Hear and Read" and "Baby First Puzzle".

The Boston-based group said developers were trying to dupe parents into thinking apps were more educational than entertaining. It's the campaign's first complaint to the Federal Trade Commission against the mobile app industry as part of its broader push to hold businesses accountable for marketing claims.

"Everything we know about brain research and child development points away from using screens to educate babies," said Susan Linn, the group's director. "The research shows that machines and screen media are a really ineffective way of teaching a baby language. What babies need for healthy brain development is active play, hands-on creative play and face-to-face" interaction.

The American Academy of Paediatrics discourages any electronic "screen time" for infants and toddlers under two, while older children should be limited to one to two hours a day.

Open Solutions said it agreed that electronics were not a substitute for human interaction. But it noted the many positive reviews its apps had received.

Linn's group alleges that the companies violate truth-in- advertising laws when they claim to "teach" babies skills.

"Given that there's no evidence that [mobile apps are] beneficial, and some evidence that it may actually be harmful, that's concerning," Linn said.

US law says advertising can't mislead consumers and, in some cases, must be backed by scientific evidence.