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The Washington Post reports that a coalition of advocacy groups - including the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Public Citizen - is urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to "crack down" on companies looking to use digital tools to market their products to children.

According to the story, the advocates are "asking the agency to take enforcement action against Google, Disney’s Maker Studios and three other companies for what they alleged was the 'unfair and deceptive practice' of aiming influencer ads at children. The advocacy groups ... also urged the federal agency to issue policy guidance on the matter."

"Influencer advertising" is defined as paying YouTube and Instagram personalities "for using or talking up a product on their social-media channels." The story notes that it is "a multibillion-dollar industry, and it is used to peddle all sorts of products, including fashion, beauty and cooking items. But advocates say these tactics are problematic when they are used to market toys, snacks and other goods to children."

The Post reports that "the FTC has taken several actions recently to try to bring more transparency to influencer marketing. Earlier this year, Lord & Taylor settled FTC charges that it had engaged in deceptive advertising. In 2015, the department store chain ran a social-media campaign in which 50 influencers were paid between $1,000 and $4,000 each to post photos of themselves wearing the same paisley-print dress. However, none of the influencers disclosed the sponsorship, as the law requires. This summer, Warner Bros. settled FTC charges that in an ad campaign for its 'Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor' video game, it did not go to great-enough lengths to ensure that influencers were disclosing that they’d been paid for their social-media posts."
KC's View:
I'm not exactly sure where the regulatory line should be, though I do think that children have to be protected from predatory companies who would take advantage of them. When I was a kid, my parents had a rule - at Christmas, we'd never get toys advertised on TV. (It stopped a lot of begging.) That's a harder rule to enforce these days, simply because there are so many media influences. But as much as federal regulations might be able to do to help, it remains up to parents to be the last line of defense.