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Baby 'Learning' Apps Are Misleading: Complaint

If you're a developer in the baby learning app market, be careful about what educational benefits your baby app promises. A number of companies are under fire for making educational claims that allegedly aren't backed by scientific evidence.

A nonprofit child advocacy group has filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, challenging the idea that such apps are anything more than just entertainment.

The FTC complaints can be seen a potential warning for app developers, and not just those developing apps for babies.

Counting: Rise in Complaints

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is a nonprofit group that helped prompt The Walt Disney Company to backtrack from its educational claims about its "Baby Einstein" videos and offer refunds, according to The New York Times.

In 2011, Your Baby Can -- a company that claimed its "Your Baby Can Read" video products could teach infants to read -- agreed to settle charges of false advertising brought by the FTC.

More recently, the advocacy group filed complaints with the FTC over Open Solution's baby apps and Fisher-Price's popular "Laugh & Learn" mobile apps. The complaints allege the apps may not teach babies language or counting skills.

Reading: False Advertising Law

There is a fine, but generally clear, line between subjectively boasting about a product and making unsubstantiated claims that violate the law.

Educational claims can't be untruthful or deceptive. As a general rule of thumb, your claims must be verifiable; otherwise they're false and misleading. An educational claim that can't be verified by rigorous scientific evidence is considered illegal by the FTC.

That means if your "learning" app isn't backed by evidence, the FTC can potentially sue your company on behalf of harmed consumers and force you to run new ads that correct misleading statements or false claims. You may also have to pay up big time.

Learning: Precautions

If your baby learning app makes claims that it teaches infants about spatial skills, numbers, language or motor skills, then back it up with evidence. It's best to only make promises the app can deliver on, and to not rely on technicalities to remain truthful.

Also, remind customers that digital screens are not a replacement for live interactions with humans or hands-on creative play.

You may also want to include a warning that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents avoid screen media for children under 2.

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