Consumer, Child Advocates Say YouTube Kids App Violates Federal Advertising Laws

April 08, 2015

Google's new YouTube application for kids violates federal advertising laws, say some consumer and child advocate groups.

A coalition filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging that YouTube Kids includes advertising and marketing that would be illegal if it were on traditional television.

According to the complaint filed by organizations including the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the app intermixes advertising and programming, features branded channels for companies like McDonald's Barbie and Fisher-Price, and distributes user-generated content that features toys, candy and other products without disclosing any business relationships.

The family-friendly app was launched by Google in February with the intent to provide a place for kids to browse content made explicitly for children. Parental controls let caregivers control age-appropriate content and limit viewing times. In essence, all the inappropriate or adult-related videos have been stripped from the site, leaving only those channels and videos directly targeted at children.

Unlike Netflix, which has its own kids channel, YouTube is supported by advertising revenue.

"There is nothing 'child friendly' about an app that obliterates long-standing principles designed to protect kids from commercialism," Josh Golin, Associate Director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said in a statement. "YouTube Kids exploits children's developmental vulnerabilities by delivering a steady stream of advertising that masquerades as programming."

According to CNET, Google responded that it worked with a variety of child advocacy groups when it developed the app and was never contacted by the coalition with its complaints.

The FTC said it would review the complaint.

Organizations signing the complaint include the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children Now, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, Consumers Union, Corporate Accountability International, and Public Citizen.

Editor's Note: The North Carolina Consumers Council is a member of the Consumer Federation of America.

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