On November 17, a coalition of more than 20 prominent groups advocating for children, privacy, and health sent a petition to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the government agency to ban "unfair" marketing aimed at children. The groups say that children's apps and games with billions of downloads use tactics similar to slot machines to keep kids hooked.

"Design features that maximize minors' time and activities online are deeply harmful to minors' health and safety," the activist groups wrote. "The F.T.C. can and must establish rules of the road to clarify when these design practices cross the line into unlawful unfairness, thus protecting vulnerable users from unfair harms."

The petition calls on the FTC to ban online kids services from offering unpredictable rewards, enabling endless scroll feeds, strategically timing advertising, and using social media-like features to pressure kids to engage with their apps more. According to the activist coalition, kids and teenagers subjected to these kinds of platforms may experience worsened anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-harm, or suicidality.

"Design features that maximize time and activity online harm minors emotionally, developmentally, and physically," the advocates said. "Minors themselves complain that they have difficulty extricating themselves from services designed to keep them engaged, and lament the social pressure they feel to produce and interact with content."

The groups' petition comes just a few months after the FTC asked the public for comments on whether or not the agency needs to introduce new rules to regulate or restrict what it calls "commercial surveillance", the data collection and targeting of online consumers. Some of the questions the FTC asked specifically pertained to ads aimed at kids.

"Do techniques that manipulate consumers into prolonging online activity," such as quantifying the number of likes on social media posts, "facilitate commercial surveillance of children and teenagers?" the agency asked. "Is it an unfair or deceptive practice when a company uses these techniques despite evidence or research linking them to clinical depression, anxiety, eating disorders or suicidal ideation among children and teenagers?"

Talk of regulating children's' advertising online has become increasingly common around the globe. In Britain, lawmakers introduced the Children's Code last year to protect young users from certain potentially damaging features on social media and video game platforms. California introduced a law in September that requires apps commonly used by kids to establish robust safeguards for minors, and two different bills regarding online protections for kids and teens have been introduced in Congress.