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Advocacy Groups Claim YouTube Kids App Deliberately Deceives Kids

The Short of It

Consumer Watchdog and other children's advocacy groups filed an official complaint with the Federal Trade Commission today, charging that the Google-owned YouTube Kids app is deliberately deceiving kids through its advertising practices, and essentially taking advantage of kids' developmental vulnerabilities.

The Lowdown

Prominent advocacy groups, such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Children Now, say the app in question merges content and advertising in a way that is unfair given its young, impressionable audience, according to a press release.

The complaint asks that the FTC investigate Google for:

  • Intermixing, too seamlessly, advertising and programming, which is deceptive to kids, who lack the cognitive ability to distinguish between them.
  • Featuring "branded channels" for companies like McDonald's, Barbie and Fisher-Price, which are basically program-length commercials.
  • Distributing "user-generated" segments that feature products like toys and candy without disclosing the business relationships between producers of the videos and the product manufacturers.
  • Violating Google's own advertising policies that promise food and beverage ads will not appear on the YouTube Kids app.

According to Yahoo! Finance, the complaint further says, "...the company appears to have ignored not only the scientific research on children's developmental limitations, but also the well-established system of advertising safeguards that has been in place on both broadcast and cable television for decades."

The Upshot

For its part, Google claims it worked with child advocacy groups to develop the app. A spokesperson said: "While we are always open to feedback on ways to improve the app, we were not contacted directly by the signers of this letter and strongly disagree with their contentions, including the suggestion that no free, ad-supported experience for kids will ever be acceptable. We disagree and think that great content shouldn't be reserved for only those families who can afford it."

Defenders of Google also point out that ultimately, it's up to parents to monitor kids' viewing habits. I have to say I agree with that point.

What do you think?

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