A non-profit organization dedicated to keeping digital media in the public interest has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate interactive advertising practices.

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Digital Democracy sent a letter June 8 to Timothy J. Muris, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, asking the FTC to “re-evaluate the ways in which we shield young people from the excesses of the immersive, interactive media environment.”

Jeffrey Chester, the CDD’s executive director, called on the FTC to “launch a study into the interactive advertising technologies and techniques being directed at children and youth today, exposing technologies that are little understood and offering policy options for curbing harmful practices.”

Chester said advertising on the Internet, in video games and in digital TV systems should fall under the study’s purview. The letter also asked the FTC to join the CDD in calling for a moratorium on advertising techniques that, absent sufficient data to the contrary, may harm children, “tweens” and teens.

An AdAge.com article quoted Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, who called the letter a “classic example of verdict first, trial later.”

Jaffe said the CDD was giving the impression that interactive advertising was “an illicit activity.”

The letter from Chester and the CDD read: “The immersive, relational, and ubiquitous nature of such [interactive] marketing raises serious questions about the ability of existing safeguards and rules to protect our nation’s children and young people.”

The ANA’s Jaffe disagrees, telling AdAge.com that existing laws already deal with the issues that concern the CDD.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which deals with collecting personal information online from children under 13, became effective April 21, 2000. The CDD was instrumental in COPPA, but in the recent letter to the FTC, Chester said new technologies have already made the act much less effective.

“Admittedly, nothing can stop ad agencies and their corporate clients from spending millions of dollars in search of the next marketing and promotion ‘killer app,'” the letter concluded. “But it is up to the FTC to make certain that the most vulnerable segment of the population—our children—do not get caught in the crossfire.”

Jaffe spoke at the National Press Club June 9 about children and advertising in the new digital age. The event was sponsored by Children Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association.

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

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