Skip to main content


Cheryl Williams - Are advertisers hijacking playtime with apps for babies?
Are advertisers hijacking playtime with apps for babies?

Researcher Cheryl Williams on apps for babies. Are "age appropriate" games actually good for them? (Thomas Whisenand/CP)
Jian speaks with Cheryl Williams, a York University PhD candidate who has been studying apps made for babies and the rise of "underhanded" marketing during playtime. Williams says toy companies are creating games for children as young as six months old that are primarily vehicles for advertising.
"The baby is actually bonding with these characters in the app because they're playing with them everyday for a few weeks," Williams explains.
In one of the apps she looked at, touching a banner led to a full-page ad for a monkey toy.
"Then [the babies] are in a shopping cart in the store, and they see the line of monkey toys on the shelves, and it's natural that they'd be gesturing and pointing," she says. "So they've then actually indicated a purchase preference to their parents before they're even able to speak."
Against this backdrop, she argues that advertising guidelines need to be updated for the digital age.
"My suggestion is that at least take the current regulations for television, and let's find a way to have them apply to the digital space," she suggests.
Willlams presented the results of her research this week at the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities at Brock University -- a prestigious academic conference held annually in Canada.

Peter Unwin shortlisted for Annual Trillium Book Award
York grad student and author Peter Unwin likes to do things differently. While other authors were heading to Paris, Unwin set off to Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit, roaming Canada's Arctic, getting to know the untold stories of its people. With several books published and well into his 50s, Unwin decided it was time to return to university for graduate work. His unconventional approach, however, has earned him a place on the 2014 Trillium Book Award shortlist for, "Life Without Death and Other Stories."
In this second collection of short stories Unwin delves into people's journeys through life, their search for meaning and the unexpected changes, coincidences and catastrophes that befall them along the way. As Unwin says, many of the characters have been around the block, some more than once, while others are just beginning their journey. Life Without Death and Other Stories is one of six English books and five French books nominated for the Ontario government's prestigious award for literature.
Finalists will read from their nominated works June 16 at 7pm as part of a special event in the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street. The winners will be announced the following day at a dinner in Toronto. He will also be reading from his collection June 7 at 4pm at A Novel Spot Bookshop, 270 The Kingsway in Etobicoke.
Similar to his first short story collection, The Rock Farmers (Cormorant Books, 1994), which came from his Arctic wanderings and was shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Life Without Death and Other Stories features characters that "live full, complex lives".
"I spent a lot of time in the North. I'm not a world traveler, but what travelling I've done I've done in the North in particular, so I know a lot of small towns," says Unwin. That included the Arctic and Labrador. What Unwin calls "Canadian travels to more obscure places...that would inform my writing to a large extent." Now he's more of "an urban guy" and that is evident in his current themes. "I was very determined to be a Canadian author in a sense to use Canada as my material, and thematically as my basis.
Without Death and Other Stories offers a glimpse of some more urban-themed Canadian lives, but always infused with Unwin's dark wit and sardonic humour. The book's description gives an idea of the quirkiness of those lives: "A man recalls a lifetime of love and loss while copying contacts out of his old little black book. A woman is left her dying father's secret stash of pornography, and is entrusted with the unenviable task of disposing of it. A new father unexpectedly discovers a way of connecting to his autistic son....A man's former acquaintance resurfaces decades later as the subject of a haunting art film."

Updated on June 2nd, 2014.