The presence of kids under 13 online has become difficult to ignore in the past few years. Even though many apps (especially social media ones) are strictly for users over 13, a much younger audience has flooded the web and is becoming a powerful driving force having a heavy impact on what content gets made, how it gets viewed and, of course, how digital advertising dollars are spent. UNICEF research shows that there are 170,000 children going online for the first time every day, and there’s no other audience type growing that quickly. The last 12 months have seen the world (and Silicon Valley) finally start to embrace this demographic change, with consumer advocacy groups calling on the FTC to investigate kids apps on Google Play for potentially violating federal privacy law. And the ripple effect of this disruption is making waves across the technology, media, legal and education sectors.
SuperAwesome’s technology works with more than 250 brands and content owners in the kids digital media ecosystem, and we are actively investing in many emerging kids startups operating there, so I have a privileged vantage point of the sector.
The digital landscape for kids is inevitably going to undergo vast change in the next year, and here’s what our team at SuperAwesome is watching out for:
1. The first major children’s data breach (by an adult online platform)
Considering how much children’s personal data is being captured unintentionally by adult services like YouTube and other adtech platforms, it’s only a matter of time before a targeted data breach happens. Not to mention there was already a major breach for 87 million Facebook users, whose personal information was accessed by a political consultancy.
2. The global regulation of children’s internet access continues
In 2018, we saw Europe (GDPR-K) and China adopt new children’s data privacy laws, mandating a do-not-track ecosystem for kids. Towards the end of the year, India also started to draft legislation entitled A Free and Fair Digital Economy: Protecting Privacy, Empowering Indians, citing the Indian Supreme Court decision stating that the right to privacy is a fundamental right. The global momentum here looks unstoppable and I expect to see Australia and other parts of South America follow suit.
3. Another big year for kids content investment
Apple, Netflix and Amazon will collectively invest a lot more money in kids content this year, as Apple gears up to launch its upcoming streaming service, and all of them prepare to compete with Disney’s new SVOD Disney+. Startups like Moonbug are raising major investment rounds to consolidate new kids digital IPs. Every single SVOD platform is going to need children’s content to anchor their battle for people’s TVs at home.
4. Ironically, this creates a kids digital advertising crunch
The majority of new kids content sits behind a paywall of some sort, with platforms including Hopster, Netflix, Amazon and Turner’s Boomerang SVOD service—to name just a few—using a subscription model. Despite more digital content being produced, there is proportionately less kid-safe ad inventory than before.
5. More technology companies will come under pressure to create data collection policies for children
Towards the end of 2018, AOL/Oath was hit with a massive fine by the FTC for collecting children’s personal data. This year will see more actions against major technology companies, but also likely more class action lawsuits filed in Europe (under GDPR-K) in the wake of both Facebook and Google getting hit with US$8.8 billion in lawsuits on day one of GDPR.
6. A technology company finally creates a Chief Children’s Officer position
7. More mainstream game developers adopt parent portals and age-gates
It has not escaped the attention of other industries just how problematic children have become for YouTube. The AVOD has done its best to tackle several issues to do with inappropriate content over the last couple of years, hiring 10,000 content moderators and rolling out new measures to build trust and ensure safety. But this year, game publishers will take preemptive steps to encourage more under-13 gamers and their parents to play mainstream titles. Watch for more parent portals and responsible gaming initiatives.
8. More focus on kids and mindfulness
With greater scrutiny on kids’ screen time and the ethics of content algorithms that keep them hooked, all eyes are on how to keep the next generation from getting addicted to digital entertainment. A frontrunner in this movement is tech startup Osmo, which launched a new platform to combat intentionally addictive apps and passive scrolling with the under-eight crowd last year. And we expect to see more startups focusing on the need for mindfulness when it comes to kid users. Calm is already looking closely at this need, and there will inevitably be more on the horizon.
9. Greater scrutiny on the classroom and students’ digital privacy rights
Although a lot has been written on children using an internet which was built for adults, another battle is happening in schools. Google has been making a play to own the tools in this sector by flooding free apps and hardware in exchange for students opting in to questionable privacy policies (often by their teachers). This recent New York Times Op-Ed about how kids shouldn’t have to give up their privacy for the sake of education is just the beginning. The debate will get much louder in 2019.
Dylan Collins (@MrDylanCollins) is CEO of SuperAwesome, the leading kidtech platform, whose technology powers the kids digital media ecosystem. He is also Chairman of leading software services firm Potato, and a venture partner in seed stage European VC fund Hoxton Ventures.