You’d think that an app supposedly designed to deliver video to young kids would deliver appropriate child friendly content and offer things like parental parental control over how long kids can use the app.
It would be a sort of walled garden where kids could enjoy online videos without being exposed to the tawdry and seamier side of the Internet.
That’s what Google promised with YouTube Kids when it was launched in February. Well, you can limit how long a kid can watch, but turns out that the real problem is the content.
Much of YouTube Kids material is blatant commercial messages masquerading as entertainment. In the world of broadcast and cable television there are rules that require ads be separate from shows and that there is a clear distinction. A kids show host can’t midway through a program pick up a box of sugary cereal and urge his young viewers to tell their moms to buy it.
That is exactly the sort of content available through the YouTube Kids app. For example, McDonald’s has its own channel that waxes on about the virtues of a Big Mac. There is nothing to suggest this blatant effort to push fattening fast food to kids is an ad.
A Thomas the Train video features a Kinder Surprise Egg, the chocolate eggs that have a prize inside — considered a choking hazard — which is why the eggs can’t legally be imported to the United States.
An 8-minute video on the HobbyKids TV channel starts off plugging Domino’s Pizza with the kids diving into the box while a woman’s voice of camera says, "Domino’s Pizza! Cheese Pizza! HobbyKids love pizza. Do you love pizza?” There’s no indication that this product placement and blatant commercial message is an ad.
Consumer Watchdog is one of 10 consumer and child advocacy groups that on Tuesday filed a formal petition asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. We charged that what’s going on behind Google’s walled YouTube Kids garden are illegal unfair and deceptive practices that must be stopped.
Sometimes the language of formal complaints can be a little stilted. That’s why I wanted to layout some straightforward examples of what Google is allowing. The Internet giant should be ashamed of the way it is helping target impressionable kids with hidden ads.
The is some good news. Late Tuesday an FTC spokesman said, “"The commission has received the letter and will review the concerns raised by these groups.” Why don't you drop the commission a line asking them to throw the book at Google and YouTube for Kids? You can send an email to email@example.com.