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Apple drops iAds from apps aimed at kids

by Phil Hornshaw

It appears that after some pressure from the federal government, numerous media stories, lots of complaints from parents and concerns from advertisers, Apple is changing the way it does business in the App Store, at least as far as kids are concerned.

According to a story from Pocket Gamer, the tech giant is moving away from presenting iAds in apps aimed at children. Although Apple hasn’t publicly stated that it’s making a change to its App Store rules or policies -- it rarely does so -- reports and rumors seem to suggest that the company is backing away from targeting advertising at children.

The Pocket Gamer story suggests that companies that use iAds feel their ad dollars are being wasted on apps aimed at kids. One developer who created a Pokemon-themed app for the iPhone found that his iAd “fill rates” had dropped to zero, and when he asked Apple about it, he was greeted with the following response via email, which stated that Apple will “periodically review the apps in the iAd network to ensure that all apps receiving are aligned with the needs of our advertisers. Currently, our advertisers prefer that their advertising not appear in applications that are targeted for users that are young children, since their products are not targeted at that audience."

That’s not too hard to fathom, given the nature of advertising -- ads are targeted at the demographic of people who might buy them. Ads in apps aimed at children aren’t as effective as they might be on other platforms, like TV, because mobile ads are less viscerally effective to children and for the most part, children can’t make buying decisions on iOS devices because of password protections.

An aim at (kind of) protecting children?

That might only part of what’s really happening, though. Apple and some app developers have received some pretty harsh criticism over advertising geared at children and in-app purchases available in “freemium” games that are aimed at children. Things have even gone so far as to warrant a federal investigation into the legality of some of those purchases, since parents report their kids have been able to rack up thousands of dollars in iTunes bills during the former 15-minute window after entering an Apple ID password during which more purchases can be made without an additional password prompt.

Apple has since changed things so that every time an in-app purchase is made, a password has to be entered, in hopes of mitigating those concerns. According to a story from Touch Arcade, Beeline Interactive (formerly Capcom Mobile), the maker of Smurfs’ Village, perhaps the most notorious child in-app purchase offender, has also put a cap on in-app purchases that users can make in its app.

The Smurfs’ Village change limits users to making five purchases in a 15-minute period. In the game, users can buy “smurf berries” to speed up their progression through the FarmVille-like Smurfs’ Village, and those berries can be bought in packages costing up to $100 at a time. Limiting IAP to five in 15 minutes seems like it will do next to nothing to prevent the same kind of accidental child spending the app has gotten into trouble over, but hey, something’s better than nothing, I guess.

We’ll probably never know exactly what is causing Apple to make changes to policies in the App Store, given how secretive the company remains about how it makes its decisions. But continued changes into how mobile apps interact with children seem to be moving in the direction of less advertisements and fewer ways to recklessly spend money that’s not theirs, and that’s a good thing. Hopefully Apple will continue to make changes that will benefit its youngest users, even if they are just business decisions.