The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

August 7, 2013

Benefit of mobile apps for toddlers questioned

— WASHINGTON (AP) — Can a mobile app really teach a baby to find her nose? Or learn to recognize letters and numbers? Not according to an advocacy group that filed a complaint Wednesday with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that two popular baby app developers — Fisher-Price Inc. and Open Solutions — are trying to dupe parents into thinking their online games make infant and toddlers smarter.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Boston-based group whose allegations against "Baby Einstein" videos eventually led to nationwide consumer refunds, is urging federal investigators to examine the marketing practices of Fisher-Price's "Laugh & Learn" mobile apps and Open Solutions' games such as "Baby Hear and Read" and "Baby First Puzzle."

It's the campaign's first complaint against the mobile app industry as part of its broader push to hold accountable businesses that market technology to very young children and their parents.

"Everything we know about brain research and child development points away from using screens to educate babies," said Susan Linn, the group's director. "The research shows that machines and screen media are a really ineffective way of teaching a baby language. What babies need for healthy brain development is active play, hands-on creative play and face-to-face" interaction.

Linn's group alleges that the companies violate truth-in-advertising laws when they claim to "teach" babies skills. For example, Fisher-Price of East Aurora, N.Y., claims that its Laugh & Learn "Where's Puppy's Nose?" app can teach a baby about body parts and language, while its "Learning Letters Puppy" app educates babies on the alphabet and counting to 10. Open Solutions, a developer based in Bratislava, Slovakia, says its mobile apps offer a "new and innovative form of education" by allowing babies to "practice logic and motor skills."

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