Advocates Urge FTC to Stop Deceptive Marketing of "Educational" Baby Apps

Date of Release: 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Contact: Josh Golin (617-896-9369; josh@commercialfreechildhood.org)

For Immediate Release

Advocates Urge FTC to Stop Deceptive Marketing of "Educational" Baby Apps

Boston -- August 7 -- Citing a lack of evidence that apps for tablets and cell phones are educational for babies, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Fisher-Price and Open Solutions. The complaints charge that both companies have falsely marketed their popular apps for babies as educational. CCFC’s complaints are part of its ongoing efforts to hold the so-called “genius baby” industry accountable. CCFC’s campaign led the Walt Disney Company to offer an unprecedented refund on its Baby Einstein DVDs, and to a landmark FTC judgment against the Your Baby Can, LLC, producers of a video series that purported to teach babies to read.

“Fisher-Price and Open Solutions exploit parents’ natural tendency to want what’s best for their babies,” said CCFC’s Director Dr. Susan Linn. “Their false and deceptive marketing creates the impression that their apps effectively educate infants and toddlers, when time with tablets and smart phones is really the last thing very young children need for optimal learning and development."

Both Fisher-Price and Open Solutions claim that their mobile apps will “teach” babies skills and information—including words and numbers—before they are even old enough to take their first steps. But neither company offers any evidence to back up their claims. To date, not a single credible scientific study has shown that babies can acquire language or math skills from interacting with screens. In addition screen time may be harmful for babies. Research links infant screen time to sleep disturbances and delayed language acquisition, as well as problems in later childhood, such as poor school performance and childhood obesity. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends discouraging screen time for children under two.

“These companies are violating federal laws that protect consumers by making totally unsupported and unsubstantiated claims about the educational value of their products,” said Laura Moy of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown Law, which is representing CCFC in its complaints. “And not only are they breaking the law, they are unfairly taking advantage of well-meaning parents who want nothing more than to help their babies get ahead of the curve. The Commission should stop these practices and make crystal clear that if companies want to market apps as educational for babies, they must have evidence to back up their claims.”

CCFC’s complaints charge that Fisher-Price’s makes numerous false and unsubstantiated educational claims about its popular Laugh & Learn apps, which were downloaded nearly 3 million times in 2012. For example, Fisher-Price claims that its Laugh & Learn apps will teach babies language and number skills. Yet Fisher-Price offers no evidence to support this claim and research has consistently demonstrated that screen media is not an effective means of educating babies. The claims made by Open Solutions—that its apps will teach babies multiple skills, including reading and spelling—are also not supported by research.

“Given that the baby app market is rapidly expanding, it is important that the FTC act quickly to prevent Fisher-Price, Open Solutions, and the entire baby app industry from using false marketing to hook a generation of babies on unnecessary, and potentially harmful, screen time,” added Dr. Linn.

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