With children's screen time on the rise during the lockdown, concerns around their exposure to marketing and data collection practices online are on the rise, explains WFA Senior Policy Manager, Rebecka Allén.
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Limiting your child’s screen time is a challenge under normal circumstances. In a Covid-19 era, it’s near impossible. Whether it’s celebrating a friend’s birthday, playing a game, interacting with grandparents or keeping up with schoolwork, kids are likely to be using digital devices.
Naturally, this has exacerbated concerns around kids’ exposure to marketing and data collection practices online.
The concern is that with more time being spent online and more personal data being collected, tech companies are taking advantage of kids’ increased media use to feed an already opaque and unregulated, digital advertising ecosystem.
Privacy advocates in the US raised this issue in March, and managed to mobilise a bipartisan group of Senators to sign a letter to the FTC requesting that it investigate whether children’s data are adequately protected online. The goal goes well beyond protecting children in a lockdown environment. Ultimately, privacy advocates want the US regulator to take a thorough look under the bonnet in the context of the revision of the rules linked to the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
It may not take long before European enforcement authorities start feeling the pressure. The Dutch data protection authority has already announced it would investigate how Chinese-owned social media app TikTok, which has become hugely popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, handles the data of millions of young users.
Food companies are being accused of capitalising on the pandemic, with campaigns such as Domino’s “5 reasons to eat pizza in isolation” in Australia getting headlines for all the wrong reasons. In the UK, public health campaigner Action on Salt and Action on Sugar is calling for an advertising ban on unhealthy foods during the lockdown.
There’s no doubt that childhood is more digital than ever and we have a long way to go to effectively protect children from abusive data collection practices, commercial exploitation, tech addiction and harmful content.
It may not be all doom and gloom, however. Latest trend research reveals that today’s young kids may be better equipped to deal with the lockdown than we would have been as kids. Gen Alpha – those born after 2010, when the iPhone was launched, also sometimes referred to as the new “old fashioneds” – are both digital masters and critical consumers.
Unlike Gen Z or their millennial parents, they are tech-empowered, not tech-dependent. Almost half (48%) of Gen Alpha kids often spend time away from devices and tech, compared with just 29% of their older siblings in Gen Z, according to a study by Beano Studios set in the UK. Ninety-eight per cent are still playing outside, and nearly three-quarters (72%) are still climbing trees.
These findings reflect those from a study with European kids in 2018, which revealed that reducing screen time isn’t solely a preoccupation for parents. It’s something kids themselves worry about and actively try to manage.
Nevertheless, the threat of the pandemic on children’s wellbeing is indisputable. In these uncertain times, two things seem certain: opportunistic marketing strategies with kids in a Covid-19 context are likely to backfire.
And wherever kids go, regulators will be close behind.
To discuss digital marketing and children in the context of Covid-19, join our remote Responsible Advertising and Children (RAC) meeting on 27 May.
For more information, contact Rebecka Allén.