Walmart recently removed its undisclosed Universe of Play advergame from the Roblox platform amid growing concerns about privacy and stealth marketing targeting children. The metaverse, a virtual space where users can interact with each other and digital environments, has become increasingly popular among younger generations such as Gen Z and Gen Alpha. Platforms like Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft have attracted millions of users, making them prime targets for marketers seeking to reach these elusive demographics.
However, the rise of user-generated games on platforms like Roblox has raised concerns about exposing children to inappropriate content, such as adult themes, graphic images, and offensive language. Additionally, stealth marketing techniques, which involve embedding advertisements within games, virtual worlds, and influencer posts, have made it difficult for children to distinguish between entertainment and advertising. This has led to calls for stricter regulations and enforcement to protect young users from potentially harmful content and deceptive marketing practices.
In response to these concerns, Roblox has revised its policies to explicitly prohibit ads targeted at users under 13 years old and provide additional guidelines for advertising and sponsorship disclosures. Despite these changes, advocacy groups like Truth in Advertising (TINA.org) and Common Sense Media continue to express concerns about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) program as it relates to advertising on platforms like Roblox.
Walmart’s decision to remove its Universe of Play advergame from Roblox highlights the growing scrutiny surrounding privacy and marketing practices in the metaverse. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also expressed interest in protecting children from deceptive marketing disguised as online games and entertainment, inviting the public to weigh in on the issue.
As more children gain access to online platforms and digital media at earlier ages, it is crucial for companies, regulators, and advocacy groups to work together to ensure that young users can safely navigate the digital world without being constantly influenced by marketers. With the metaverse continuing to expand and evolve, addressing privacy concerns and implementing effective safeguards will be essential to protect the well-being of children and teens online.