Children start using digital devices and media at an increasingly young age. At the same time, they become consumers and an attractive target group for marketers. However, according to a Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA) review, children are not a homogeneous group; rather, there are major differences in their skills and opportunities to use digital services. Therefore, more research data is needed to assess questions related to consumer protection, such as the disclosure of data and the recognisability of advertising.
The FCCA supervises marketing targeted at children and contractual terms and conditions. Children are a more vulnerable consumer group than adults and, therefore, from the perspective of consumer protection, they are in a special position. As the digital market has its own specificities, the Agency has prepared an overview of children as consumers of digital media to support its work.
Usually, digital media services are ostensibly free of charge, but, in exchange of their use, children must disclose information on themselves to service providers and advertisers. Advertisers take advantage of this information to target content that is of interest to children. Their aim is to guide children's behaviour and commit them to lifelong brand consumers.
From the perspective of child consumer protection, it is important that advertising is clearly distinguishable from other content. According to studies, children under 12 years of age do not have sufficient ability to recognize advertisements or persuasion techniques targeted at them. Peer-to-peer marketing also blurs the boundary between ads and other content: children recommend products and services to each other either in cooperation with the marketer or unintentionally when publishing their own content.
Shortcomings in digital skills and in opportunities for use
Although children use digital devices and services from a very young age, not every one of them is automatically digitally native. According to studies, children's skills and opportunities to use digital devices and their content may vary greatly.
According to the FCCA review, while there is a great deal of research data available on the use of digital services by children, the data is limited. Research has focused on aspects related to education and health and on what equipment and services children use. In order to better assess the implementation of consumer protection for children, information on how children act as consumers in digital media would also be needed.
This situation may improve in the next few years, as related research projects are now under way. The European Commission has also opened a public hearing on the strategy for the rights of children, of which digital services are a part.
Child as a consumer in commercial digital media (in Finnish)
Senior Specialist Helena Tuorila, tel. +358 (0)29 505 3653, firstname.lastname@example.org