Children’s Advertising Review Unit Finds Firefly Games in Violation of COPPA and CARU’s Advertising and Privacy Guidelines; Company Agrees to Corrective Actions
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McLean, VA – August 2, 2022 – The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of BBB National Programs has found Firefly Games, owner and operator of the LOL Surprise! Room Makeover app, in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and CARU’s Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Advertising and for Children’s Online Privacy Protection. Firefly Games agreed to correct the violations.
The LOL Surprise! Room Makeover app, featuring LOL Surprise! dolls and characters licensed by MGA Entertainment, came to CARU’s attention through its routine monitoring of child-directed content. Given the app’s child-directed subject matter of LOL Surprise! dolls, intended for ages four and up, its use of animated characters, fun background music, and simplistic nature of gameplay, as well as information provided by Firefly Games that the app has adult users with a nostalgic connection to LOL Surprise! content, CARU determined that the Firefly Games app was a “mixed audience” child-directed app and as such is subject to COPPA and CARU’s Guidelines.
Children’s Privacy Issues
Based on its review of both privacy policies and discussions with Firefly Games, CARU also learned that the two privacy policies have conflicting representations about the use of SDK’s, cookies, web-beacons, geolocation data, and third-party ads, which were also contrary to Firefly Games’ actual practices. For example, the policies were not uniform or clear in explaining what type of geolocation information was collected and for what purposes. Firefly Games collected coarse geolocation information, rather than precise geolocation information covered by COPPA, but that was not clear from its privacy policies.
Due to these inconsistencies among the privacy policies and Firefly Games’ failure to accurately state its practices, CARU found that Firefly Games violated COPPA by failing to provide a notice of its children’s information collection and use practices that is clearly and understandably written, complete, and contains no unrelated, confusing, or contradictory materials.
Children’s Advertising Issues
CARU’s Advertising Guidelines make clear that advertisers must not manipulate or deceive children. Conduct that would violate this provision includes the use of deceptive door openers and other tactics that either pressure or manipulate a child into engaging with ads, downloading and installing unnecessary apps, or making unintended purchases.
CARU found that the LOL Surprise! Room Makeover app served multiple ads, often appearing on completion of a game level and advertising other apps, and the ads could not be stopped or dismissed until users had downloaded the advertised app or watched the entire ad. These video ads often included interactive features that mimicked the app’s gameplay, encouraging players to engage with the ad. CARU found these ads excessively interfered with gameplay, required children to download and install unnecessary apps, and often provided unclear and inconspicuous methods for children to exit the ad and return to the game. While the CARU Advertising Guidelines do not require in-app ads to provide an exit method, they specify that where one is offered it must be clear and conspicuous.
Though Firefly Games contested CARU’s findings on grounds that the app went through a “rigorous review process to pass Google’s guidelines for family advertising,” CARU made it clear that an app developer cannot rely on a platform’s guidelines or requirements as a substitute for complying with the CARU Ad Guidelines.
Additionally, to prevent blurring the lines between advertising and non-advertising content, CARU’s Advertising Guidelines make clear that advertisers should take extra care to be transparent when advertising to children and that advertisements must be easily identifiable as advertising. The app failed to use simple, clear, and conspicuous language to let children know when they were selecting a button that would force them to watch or engage with an ad, and instead used a series of confusing buttons such as “Tap to Continue” and “Quit” and the symbol “>>” to let children know that if they tapped those buttons they would be taken to watch an ad or make a purchase.
Last, CARU found that the app displayed some advertisements that were unsafe and inappropriate for children. CARU’s Advertising Guidelines make clear that advertisements should not include material or link to content that could unduly frighten or provoke anxiety in children, that portrays or encourages behavior inappropriate for children (e.g., violence or sexuality), or that is otherwise inappropriate for children.
CARU recommended that Firefly Games take the following corrective actions:
- Provide clear and understandable notice of its children’s information collection and use practices.
- Provide a COPPA-compliant means of obtaining verifiable parental consent.
- Design its app with children in mind to ensure it does not deceive or manipulate children.
- Provide clear and conspicuous disclosures of all ads.
- Ensure any methods offered by the app to exit ads are clear and conspicuous.
- Monitor and ensure advertisements are safe and appropriate for children.
Firefly Games participated in CARU’s self-regulatory program and provided CARU with a detailed plan to remedy the concerns raised in the decision to comply with COPPA and CARU’s Advertising and Privacy Guidelines.
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