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Apps to make babies smarter called scams

Group asks for federal investigation into 'educational' baby apps.

By Mitch Lipka Aug 8, 2013 5:52PM

Family © Big Cheese Photo, PictureQuestCan an app turn your baby into a genius? At least two companies are trying to sell parents on that idea, and now a consumer protection group wants the government to intervene and curb the practice.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood says there is no proof these supposedly educational apps have any positive effect on babies and the companies are duping parents into thinking that they work. The group filed a complaint this week with the Federal Trade Commission asking that the agency investigate Fisher-Price and Open Solutions, both of which are marketing what have been dubbed genius baby apps.

"Fisher-Price and Open Solutions exploit parents’ natural tendency to want what’s best for their babies," said Susan Linn, the group's director. "Their false and deceptive marketing creates the impression that their apps effectively educate infants and toddlers, when time with tablets and smart phones is really the last thing very young children need for optimal learning and development."

Fisher-Price's Laugh & Learn apps were downloaded nearly 3 million times in 2012, the group says, based on representations of what babies could learn. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood says Fisher-Price and Open Solutions sell their products with the idea that the apps will teach babies words and numbers.

"To date, not a single credible scientific study has shown that babies can acquire language or math skills from interacting with screens," the group said in announcing its complaints. "In addition screen time may be harmful for babies. Research links infant screen time to sleep disturbances and delayed language acquisition, as well as problems in later childhood, such as poor school performance and childhood obesity."

Plus, the American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a position that children under 2 should be kept from viewing electronic device screens.

"These companies are violating federal laws that protect consumers by making totally unsupported and unsubstantiated claims about the educational value of their products," said Laura Moy of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown Law, which is representing the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "And not only are they breaking the law, they are unfairly taking advantage of well-meaning parents who want nothing more than to help their babies get ahead of the curve."

The group notes that its campaign against Baby Einstein DVDs led Walt Disney Company to offer refunds to consumers who don't believe their children benefited from them. The Baby Einstein folks have a slightly different spin. And, the group also raised a ruckus over video series made by Your Baby Can that claimed babies could be taught to read -- leading the FTC to get a judgment against the company for allegedly misleading consumers.

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