Consumer group urges FTC to crack down on mobile apps for babies

“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,” Linn added.

In its complaint, the advocacy group says Fisher-Price claims its popular “Laugh & Learn” mobile apps will teach babies language and number skills although no evidence supports that.

For example, Fisher-Price says its “Laugh & Learn Puppy’s Player” app will “teach baby all about letters, numbers, colors, shapes, animals, opposites, body parts and more” in the app description on Apple’s iTunes App Store. Although Fisher-Price doesn’t provide a specific age for the app, the description indicates that it’s targeted towards babies.

The app description says the “baby-friendly interface makes it easy for baby to find and select entertaining & educational videos from Laugh & Learn.” The app can be found in the education section of the iTunes App Store.

“CCFC is not aware of any scientific studies evaluating the effectiveness of Fisher-Price’s apps at achieving the ambitious claims the company makes,” the complaint reads.

The advocacy group says recent research suggests that babies’ excessive interaction with gadget screens may be harmful, causing sleep disturbances and delayed language acquisition. 

Linn’s group led a campaign against Walt Disney’s “Baby Einstein” DVDs and filed a similar FTC complaint against them. In 2009, Disney eventually offered a refund to anyone who purchased a “Baby Einstein” video in the past five years.

Eric Null, Laura Moy and Angela Campbell from Georgetown Law’s Institute for Public Representation are representing the group in its complaint against Fisher-Price and Open Solutions.

In a statement to The Hill, Fisher-Price stood by its apps and research claims.

“Our toy development process begins with extensive research by our internal team of early childhood development experts to create appropriate toys for the ways children play, discover and grow,” said Kathleen Alfano, senior director of children research at Fisher-Price. “Grounded in 80 years of research and childhood development observations, we have appropriately extended these well researched play patterns into the digital space.”

This post was updated at 11:59 a.m.

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