Karaoke app-maker must obtain consent or change its product 

Aria Antenna

The Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) has recently focused on selfie-stick products and how companies are marketing these products to children of varying ages.

In the most recent instance, CARU reviewed StarMaker Interactive's StarMaker app, a karaoke smartphone application that was pitched to users of the "Selfie-Mic."

The Selfie-Mic is a standard selfie stick that includes a microphone. For some time, the makers of the Selfie-Mic have been pushing the StarMaker app along with their product, suggesting that the app was the Selfie-Mic's ideal partner to record users' interpretations of their favorite songs. Together, the two products formed a system that would allow interaction with the product as well as the app in a unique way.

Back in 2016, CARU took Moose Toys, the Selfie-Mic's manufacturer, to task over television advertising that promoted the StarMaker app to children. In this instance, Moose Toys had a commercial that depicted children texting a music video to a friend through the app, a functionality which would only be allowed to children over the age of thirteen who pass the app's age gate.

That review sparked an additional review of the StarMaker app by CARU, which culminated in a decision released in July 2018. During its review, CARU noted there were many users of the StarMaker app who appeared to be under age 13. While the decision acknowledged that children under 13 were not the primary audience, it still determined that the app's age gate was not sufficient to meet the requirements of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Here, although the app was deemed a mixed audience service, because it was targeting children, the app administrator's obligations went beyond merely needing an age gate to comply with COPPA. CARU reasoned that the app administrator may age-screen its users, "but then must either obtain parental consent or provide child visitors with content consistent with what is being advertised to them in a way that does not involve the collection, use or disclosure of personal information" in order to fully comply with COPPA.

StarMaker Interactive accepted CARU's suggestions and stated that it has "started efforts to incorporate changes to our app, as recommended by CARU … and will keep working with CARU to build and maintain a safe and sound online world."

The Takeaway

CARU's review process and decision highlight another example of regulatory bodies evaluating emerging technology that affects children and analyzing whether such advertising or technology complies with the strict requirements of COPPA. Brands and advertisers should take notice of decisions such as these, which may largely influence how companies can effectively market products to target youth audiences while still obtaining the proper and necessary consent.