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Dev Grumbling Over Rumored Anti-Kids-Apps iAd Policy

By Erika Morphy MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
May 12, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Reports have surfaced suggesting that Apple has decided to stop displaying iAd network ads on apps geared toward children. This appears to be a policy change on the part of Apple, which cited low interest on the part of advertisers.

Dev Grumbling Over Rumored Anti-Kids-Apps iAd Policy

At the center of the buzz is Mike Zornek, developer of the Dex app for iPhone and iPod touch, who received an email from the iAd Network Support team about the new policy, according to MacStories.

Advertisers were not interested in having their ads displayed in apps targeting young children who might click on them but would almost certainly not buy their products, the email reportedly explained.

Apple did not respond to MacNewsWorld's request to comment for this story.

Lousy Communications

Zornek reportedly made the inquiry in the first place because he noticed that the iAd fill rates for Dex, a Pokemon-game-themed app, suddenly plunged to zero.

Zornek, who wrote about the incident on his blog, criticized both the decision and Apple's communication style.

"Apple should target their ads better," he wrote. "I would have loved to have seen some ads that were better suited to kids in Dex. It's a shame they don't have the inventory to do so. However the manner in which they've made this policy change just stinks."

There is no documentation of the change, Zornek pointed out. "Nothing is on the iAd developer page to alert people that the current fill rate for apps and games targeted at kids is zero."

He has switched to the AdMob network, he said.

Reading Between the Lines

Zornek's frustration has been resonating with others. Indeed, why doesn't Apple target its ads better? It seems the company should be able to set up its iAd program so that advertisers could have some choice in where their ads appear without cutting out advertising on kids' apps altogether.

iPads are gaining traction with the kindergarten set and it would seem, as Zornek pointed out, that there could be an advertising base that would welcome the audience.

In the absence of a better explanation from Apple, possible reasons for such a policy shift veer toward the flimsy. Does Apple, for instance, consider most ads crafted for kids unworthy of its iAd network? Perhaps the company wants to restrict iAds to the high-class genre of commercials that typically air during the Super Bowl.

Could it be that Apple simply does not want to allow advertising to kids because of potential disapproval by parents? Or to avoid scrutiny from the FTC, which recently launched a voluntary initiative to curb advertising to children -- including online interactive campaigns?

Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar

While Apple can indeed work in mysterious ways, this is probably not one of those times, Rob Walch, host of Today in iOS, told MacNewsWorld.

"It could have done a better job of communicating with developers, but probably this is exactly what it seems to be," he said. "Apple's advertisers are not interested in displaying ads in apps that target children."

There is also the PR fallout from the Smurf Village incident, he recalled, referring to cases of children accessing the app without their parents' knowledge and innocently embarking on virtual goods spending sprees.

"There is little to be gained for Apple dishing out ads to kids, especially if they are not making money in the first place," Walch said.

Subject to Change

One should keep in mind that much of this speculation is based on the word of one developer, Azita Arvani of the Arvani Group told MacNewsWorld.

"Someone at Apple has supposedly responded to him for his special case, but Apple has not formally made a stance. So, until we get more data from other developers, Apple, or even advertisers, we should limit our judgments," she advised.

Still, she allowed that some conclusions can be drawn.

To state the obvious, Apple likes to have its iAds clicked on in all kinds of applications.

"So, if the story is true, then we have to speculate that Apple is just responding to its advertisers complaining about their ads being clicked through inside kids' apps. And, since advertisers pay big bucks for iAds, they should have the right to say where their ads are being placed."

Apple does have a reputation for not being very open and forthcoming with their policies, Arvani noted -- but in this case, it is not fair to say Apple is making a permanent policy decision on its iAd placements and is keeping developers in the dark.

"I think Apple is being responsive to its current iAd advertisers," Arvani said. "In the future, if these advertisers change their minds, or if new iAd advertisers show up that want to target younger audiences, then Apple would be happy to oblige with their preferences."

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