As children increasingly turn to online learning applications, lawmakers highlight the need for the FTC to ensure young students are not harmed by manipulative education offerings
Washington (February 26, 2021) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Kathy Castor (FL-14) today sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urging it to investigate new evidence that the education technology company Prodigy Education may have violated Section 5 of the FTC Act. The lawmakers express their concerns that Prodigy Education engaged in unfair and deceptive practices in its math game designed for first-grade through eighth-grade students. New findings outlined in a recent complaint filed with the FTC suggest that Prodigy Education is misleadingly marketing its product as free, manipulating children and families into making purchases, and publishing unsupported claims about its product's educational benefits. 

As children increasingly turn to online learning applications during the coronavirus pandemic, education technology companies have greater opportunities to take advantage of them and their families for commercial gain,” the lawmakers write in their letter to the FTC.  Children are a uniquely vulnerable population online, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) must use all of its authority to protect young internet users, particularly during this period of heavy reliance on distance learning.” 

A copy of the lawmakers’ letter can be found HERE.
While marketed as a free learning program, students are led into upgrading to a paid premium version of the Prodigy program, which could cost families more than $100 a year. The game makes the most desirable or interesting prizes only available to those with a premium membership and constantly reminds children what their peers are purchasing throughout the program. While the game also promises to be more effective at helping students learn math, Prodigy does not instruct children on math skills, but rather only offers practice problems.
Against the backdrop of the rise in distance learning, Senator Markey has previously called on the FTC to launch an investigation into children’s data practices in the education technology sector and urged the FTC and Department of Education to jointly issue guidance to education technology companies and parents regarding student privacy protection during the coronavirus pandemic.