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As Roblox expands its advertising network, child safety concerns are on the horizon

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Roblox’s burgeoning ad network could drive significant revenue for the platform — but as the company widens its advertising offerings, it will have to tackle the inevitable child safety challenges that come with such an expansion.

The full rollout of video ads on Roblox earlier this month represented the latest step in the company’s plan to transform its core product from a gaming hub into a full-service digital platform à la Facebook or Amazon. In the near future, Roblox will allow advertisers to programmatically purchase video ads, with the ability to target specific demographic and geographic groups across the platform’s tens of millions of daily active users.

Roblox’s foray into advertising is a potential godsend for marketers looking to reach both Gen Z and gamers at large. After all, many of Roblox’s power users are children or teens who are rapidly aging up into brands’ coveted 18-to-34-year-old demographic. The company’s daily active user count of over-13 players grew by 22 percent between Q1 2023 and Q1 2024, according to figures shared by CEO Dave Baszucki during Roblox’s May 9 earnings call.

But when it comes to Roblox’s advertising plans, the company’s strong hold on its young audience might be a double-edged sword. Last year, for example, Roblox was criticized by watchdog organizations such as the Children’s Advertising Review Unit for advertising to under-13 users in the form of bespoke branded experiences.

The wider rollout of programmatic digital ads across Roblox, particularly video ads, could give more ammunition to the platform’s critics. It comes amid a period of increasing government attention toward child safety across the digital landscape, both on TikTok and inside gaming platforms.

“For now, the government has bigger fish to fry. They’re dealing with TikTok, and you can’t deal with everything at once,” said Ron Kerbs, CEO of child safety tech company Kidas. “But at some point, I think that someone will build his or her political career on targeting those things. No doubt about it — we’ll definitely see it in the next five to 10 years.”

In spite — or perhaps because — of potential child safety concerns, Roblox has already taken a measured approach to the rollout of its advertising products. In addition to updating the transparency guidelines for its branded experiences last year, Roblox has performed extensive beta tests of all of its advertising products before opening them up to a wider audience, and currently only serves ads to users who are 13 or older.

“From everything that we understand about the Roblox philosophy and how they’re going about ads monetization, they are taking a very privacy-centric approach,” said Kate O’Loughlin, CEO of kidtech company SuperAwesome. “Even though they’re not opening up to under-13s, they are sort of setting the building blocks, and from a first principles perspective, doing it in a way that won’t be a massive overhaul once they decide that they are going to do under-13s.”

To expand its advertising offerings to under-13 users, Roblox would have to update its current privacy policy. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act prevents services from collecting data from under-13 users without receiving the permission of their parents — and at the moment, Roblox’s privacy policy specifies that the platform’s ads only target users aged 13 or older.

“Our Privacy Policy and Advertising Standards include language that discusses our practices around advertising and user data to ensure that users understand and can control how Roblox uses their data. Please note that Roblox users can update their account’s privacy settings at any time,” said Roblox senior director of product, advertising, Richard Sim. “Later in 2024, we will begin disclosing limited personal information as related to users ages 13 and up to advertising partners to provide a more personalized advertising experience for user and improve the effectiveness of our ads. Before doing so, we will provide users with notice and information on all of their options to control how their information is being used.”

Thus far, Roblox has not communicated any plans to expand its advertising to under-13 users. If Roblox does change its privacy policy to more explicitly require parental consent for targeted advertising, it could risk making parents more wary about other forms of advertising that already exist on the platform, such as branded experiences. As Roblox continues to expand its advertising offerings, it will have to find a path forward that satisfies everyone in its digital ecosystem — including brands, users and potential regulators.

“Knowing advertising will naturally exist in 3D immersive spaces — just as it does in other parts of people’s lives where they interact with their favorite brands — our goal is to make sure ads on the platform are safe, helpful, immersive and non-interruptive to the experience that our community of creators, users and brands know and love,” Sim said.

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