Unanswered inquiry sends one developer before the FTC

Scratch Fad

“The internet is about cats,” a famous wag once said. The Children’s Advertising Review Unit’s latest investigations seem to confirm this proposition.

Both inquiries involved mobile games that focus on the adventures of impertinent and cloyingly cute felines. Before going further, we should say that we’ve tried to figure out what these games are about and haven’t the faintest clue. They seem to be inventions of the sort that, intentionally or not, are designed to give splitting headaches to people above a certain age.

Proceed with caution.

Advertising Claws

(Yes, “Advertising Claws.” CARU’s own press release uses the old “not kitten around” groaner; they started it.)

First up is “My Talking Tom,” an app created by game developer Outfit7. In the game, there’s a cat who arrives by balloon on your doorstep. You have to feed him, help him urinate (!) and put him to sleep at night. And dress him in different outfits. That’s what we gathered from videos on YouTube, at least. (Can you even win this game, asks our inner grumpy old gamer?)

CARU says that Talking Tom is festooned with in-game advertising, elements that may appear as part of gameplay to confused children. “In some cases, an ad launches automatically and in others, children can choose to watch an ad to obtain an item in the game,” the unit explains. “Upon CARU’s initial review, several of the advertisements were not clearly labeled as ads.”

Others were allegedly inappropriate for children, including ads for prescription drugs.

The Takeaway

CARU asked Outfit7 to rejigger the ads so that the line between advertisement and games was no longer blurred. Outfit7 agreed.

In the second case, things got a little cattier. (Cattier, ladies and gentlemen.)

Developer Hyperbeard created “Kleptocats,” a game wherein cats steal things. That may seem bracingly straightforward, but the cats also seem capable of taking consumer data. Who knew?

Hyperbeard was double-teamed by CARU and the Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program for apparent violations of the Digital Advertising Alliance’s Self-Regulatory Principles, CARU’s Self-Regulatory Guidelines and likely the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The organizations accused the company of allowing third-party companies to gather information about players in the course of gameplay but offered no further detail. Gathering personal information is a particularly [f]risky practice for a game aimed at children, as evidenced by the $5.7 million fine that the FTC recently imposed.

Much like an IRL cat, Hyperbeard may have heard CARU’s summons, but it refused to pay it any attention.

As a result, the case has been referred to the Federal Trade Commission for further pursuit.