On June 14, 2022, representatives of the EU’s Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) Network, together with several national data protection authorities in the EU and the secretariat of the European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”), endorsed five key principles for fair advertising to children (see press release here). These recommendations are based on relevant requirements in EU data and consumer protection laws.

According to the authorities, this joint initiative arises from the proliferation of digital business models that increasingly rely on the use of personal data for commercial purposes, which may be subject to specific rules under both data privacy and consumer protection legislation in Europe.

In their joint statement, the authorities cited research indicating that children (defined as any individual below the age of 18 years old) are unable able to recognize certain forms of advertising — particularly ads that are deeply embedded in the context of digital media and online games — and as a result, they are particularly susceptible to certain forms of advertising potentially inappropriate for children. Therefore, the authorities published these key principles for businesses to apply in order to (1) avoid practices that can be harmful for children and (2) better inform children about when and how their data is used for advertising purposes.

The five advertising principles are:

  1. Take into account the specific vulnerabilities of children when designing advertising or marketing techniques that are likely to target children (in particular, do not deceive or unduly influence them, and consider whether certain types of personalized marketing are inappropriate for them altogether);
  2. Do not exploit the age or credulity of children when engaged in marketing;
  3. Explain to children, in a manner that is appropriate and clear to them, whenever general marketing content is addressed to them or is likely to be seen by them;
  4. Do not target, urge or prompt children to purchase in-app or in-game content, and games marketed “for free” should not require in-app or in-game purchases to continue playing them in a “satisfactory manner”; and
  5. Do not profile children for advertising purposes.

The authorities emphasize that these five key principles are without prejudice to applicable EU laws, particularly in the areas of consumer protection and data privacy, including any applicable national implementing rules.

These principles follow a wave of recent child-oriented standards published by European data protection authorities, including (among others) the UK ICO’s Age Appropriate Design Code (see our blog posts here and here), the Irish DPC’s Fundamentals for a Child-Oriented Approach to Data Processing (see our blog posts here, here and here), and the French CNIL’s Eight Recommendations for Protecting Children Online (see our blog post here).

Moreover, the latest draft of the EU’s Digital Services Act, which has been provisionally agreed by the European Parliament and the Council, requires providers of digital services to implement specific safeguards for protecting children. Among other things, it requires putting in place “appropriate and proportionate measures to ensure a high level of privacy, safety, and security of minors, on their service”. It also prohibits providers from showing targeted advertising on their platforms using personal data of individuals who they are “aware with reasonable certainty” to be minors.

These developments demonstrate the continued focus of European lawmakers and regulators on safeguarding the interests of children, and the importance of businesses staying apprised of these evolving rules and putting in place appropriate measures to ensure compliance.