A coalition of consumer and privacy advocates called on the New York Times to make its new Times for Kids section free of advertising. The advocates’ letter is a response to the November 19, 2017 supplement, in which 5 of the 16 pages were full-page ads directed at children for Google Home Mini.
In a letter they sent to the Times today, the groups document how the supplement targeted vulnerable kids with marketing for an internet-connected device which could endanger children’s privacy and welfare. The groups say the cartoon ads were also disguised as kids’ puzzles, in violation of the Times’ own advertising policy and the Children’s Advertising Review Unit guidelines, which mandate a clear distinction between advertising and content in a way that would mislead children.
Signatories to the letter include the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, Corporate Accountability, New Dream, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert, and the Story of Stuff Project. They called on the Times to make future editions of the Times For Kids advertising-free. The Times plans to include the supplement in the Sunday paper once a month beginning January 2018. The letter points out that The Times for Kids is only available in print, so parents have already paid for the content, and there should be no need for the Times to engage in exploitative child-targeted marketing.
“Today’s children will be better citizens tomorrow if they get in the habit of reading the newspaper,” said David Monahan, campaign manager for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “But it’s wrong for the Times to tout an educational supplement and use it to target impressionable kids with deceptive marketing for Google.”
“The Times Company must stop trying to monetize children in order to build new revenues for its brand,” said Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy. “It diminishes its reputation by engaging in unprofessional practices towards kids in order to generate sales of ads from Google. The Times is also placing children’s privacy at risk by promoting Google’s vast commercial surveillance apparatus.”
Rachael Stickland, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, said “Parents are disappointed to see ads in The Times for Kids encouraging children to create Google accounts to play online games, particularly when the Editor’s note says the section ‘should not be read by grown-ups.’ Over half of our nation’s schoolchildren use Google products according to a recent Times report. How Google handles student information already concerns parents, so to see ads in The Times For Kids promoting Google Home — which slurps up astonishing amounts of personal data — is very upsetting.”