The Universe of Play advergame by Walmart has been quietly removed from the Roblox platform in the wake of action taken by a coalition of advocacy groups led by ad watchdog truthinadvertising.org (TINA.org).
In January, TINA.org, along with Fairplay, Center for Digital Democracy and National Association of Consumer Advocates, notified Walmart, as well as the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) – a BBB National Program – that the game, which bore a certification seal from the self-regulatory group’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Safe Harbor Program, was exposing children to deceptive marketing on Roblox.
The advocacy groups warned in its January letter that the metaverse game, featuring ads, virtual products and characters from Paw Patrol, Jurassic World, L.O.L. Surprise! and more, not only blurred the distinction between advertising content and organic content, but also lacked required disclosures and manipulated kids into viewing and interacting with stealth ads.
Walmart Universe of Play ‘has sunset as planned’
Walmart Universe of Play is now unavailable on Roblox and despite launching with a media splash in the fall of 2022 and paying to become a member of CARU’s COPPA Safe Harbor Program only a few months ago, the game “has been sunset as planned”, according to the retail giant.
In a follow-up letter to CARU sent yesterday, the groups, joined this time by Common Sense Media, expressed ongoing concern regarding the self-regulatory group’s COPPA compliance program. The letter warned that Walmart Universe of Play demonstrates how CARU has impermissibly expanded its COPPA Safe Harbor Program to include a broader advertising safe harbor, among other things, thereby deceptively giving the misimpression that company advertising misconduct is shielded from FTC review.
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Questions were also raised as to how the CARU COPPA Safe Harbor Program can operate effectively when approved products run on platforms such as Roblox that have not independently been approved by the program.
Roblox, the target of a separate 2022 TINA.org complaint to the FTC for failing to establish meaningful guardrails to ensure compliance with truth in advertising laws on its platform, has also recently made substantive changes to its own advertising guidelines.
“TINA.org is always pleased when deceptive marketing is removed or corrected, particularly when it impacts a vulnerable population such as young children. It is unfortunate, however, the deception ever existed in the first place and we urge CARU to do everything it can to prevent this type of wrongdoing from happening again in the future,” said TINA.org legal director, Laura Smith.
“Parents have a hard enough time making sure their kids are on sites that are safe and not targeting them for purchases or sensitive data. If the Children’s Advertising Review Unit gives a seal of approval to a gaming site, parents certainly don’t expect their child to face a barrage of deceptive marketing, tailored to the interests of young children, on that site. We’re glad to see this advergame was removed from Roblox,” said Fairplay campaign director, David Monahan.
To read more about deceptive marketing on Roblox see: www.truthinadvertising.org/brands/roblox
About TINA.org (truthinadvertising.org)
TINA.org is a nonprofit organization that uses investigative journalism, education, and advocacy to empower consumers to protect themselves against false advertising and deceptive marketing.
Fairplay is the leading nonprofit organization committed to helping children thrive in an increasingly commercialized, screen-obsessed culture, and the only organization dedicated to ending marketing to children.
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About Center for Digital Democracy
The Center for Digital Democracy is a nonprofit organization using education, advocacy, and research into commercial data practices to ensure that digital technologies serve and strengthen democratic values, institutions, and processes.
About National Association of Consumer Advocates
The National Association of Consumer Advocates is a nonprofit association of more than 1,500 attorneys and consumer advocates committed to representing consumers’ interests.
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