New profiles of marketing aimed at children in the Internet

16 Nov 2020 11:10h - 12:10h

Event report

This session discussed concerns about advertisements targeted at children and explored ways to protect children from commercial exploitation online, promote fair advertisement, and explore the possibility of responsible marketing practices.

A deluge of digital advertisements is targeting children because they influence their families purchasing decisions and are a key market for digital products and services, shared Mr Jeffrey Chester (Executive Director, Center for Digital Democracy). He noted that the Kids Digital Media Report predicts the kids digital advertising market will be $1.7 billion by 2021. Chester expressed concern about advanced technologies – such as artificial intelligence (AI), influencer marketing, immersive technologies, and neural marketing – being used to understand children and shape their behaviours for commercial purposes.

Dr Danilo Doneda (Law Professor, Braziliense Institute of Public Law (IDP) Academy) pointed out that many of the advertisement messages targeted at children are not visible (e.g. dark messages) or marketing is done on apps, games, and personal systems, which go ungoverned. Further, many of the advertisements may not be designed for children but rather appeal to them. Doneda expressed concern about the lack of implementation of regulations on marketing targeted at children even in countries that have introduced such regulations.

Ms Dorothy K. Gordon (Chair, UNESCO Information for All Programme (IFAP) Programme Information Pour Tous (PIPT)) expressed concerns related to the lack of information literacy, information ethics, information for development, and multilingualism as most content is still available in English. Issues also relate to transparency and accountability of companies.

To safeguard the rights of children, Chester highlighted the Children’s Online Privacy Protecting Act (COPPA) in the USA. Both Doneda and Gordon expressed their concerns about the effectiveness of implementing regulatory tools of the global north in the global south as the social context and usage patterns in many of the countries are different.

Ms Jacqueline Stephenson (Global Responsible Marketing Director, Mars, UK) highlighted Mars’s responsible marketing initiatives, such as not collecting the data of children under 16 years and not using influencers below the age of 13 years. She shared the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) initiative that deals with brand and social safety online. Reiterating Mars’s commitment to adopting responsible digital advertisement, Stephenson expressed concern about not knowing where their ads appear and how their products are used; they cannot control this.

On what needs to be done, Stephenson suggested the need for making more coordinated efforts, building global standards, creating more awareness on issues related to consent and how to make informed decisions, creating more protection for children, and continuing conversations in the right forums. Chester suggested the need to work together to ensure the information and data which is available can be shared to create global rules and strong alliances.

Doneda highlighted the need to analyse how to deal with the new landscapes, to review the existing age-verification rules, and not to place excessive burdens on parents. Many parents are not aware of the consequences, especially in developing countries. He advocated the need to go beyond the concept of consent for regulation and consider risks to children and children’s data instruments of practices and then design codes to protect children. While there should be standards to legitimise the collection of children’s data, there should still be limitations and controls over its use.

Gordon highlighted the need to increase the level of awareness among parents of what children do online, the need to work together to equip children online, the need for concerted cooperation by multistakeholders to protect the children. Smaller countries should be supported in addressing their issues, companies made accountable, and an ecosystem grounded on trust built of information in different languages.