YouTube Kids App Under Fire for Advertising to Kids

Several interest groups have banded together to encourage the FTC to better regulate digital marketing targeting children.

Image via YouTube screencapture

For decades, the Federal Trade Commission has been regulating television advertising with special attention to anything perceived to target the vulnerable minds of America’s youth. Now, consumer groups are advocating the same scrutiny be given to digital advertising, and Google’s new app YouTube Kids is feeling the heat.

Google claims that advertisements on the relatively new kid-centric platform undergo screening meant to filter out ads for food, beverages, video games, and beauty products. But, as the Washington Post points out, on YouTube Kids “McDonald’s has a 7-minute video dispelling myths about the contents of Chicken McNuggets.” Other videos created by Fisher-Price and American Greetings also seem to blur the line between entertainment and advertisement.

The joint complaint made to the FTC urges an investigation of YouTube Kids’ commercial content, contending that the service deliberately tries to “take advantage of children's developmental vulnerabilities and violate long-standing media and advertising safeguards that protect children viewing television.” The concern, long recognized in broadcast and cable ad regulation, stems from young children’s inability to distinguish entertainment or educational programming from commercial advertising.

Groups involved in the charge include the Center for Digital Democracy, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children Now, the Consumer Federation of America, the Consumer Watchdog, and Public Citizen.

“In addition to ensuring that Google stops its illegal and irresponsible behavior to children on YouTube Kids, new policies will be required to address the growing arsenal of powerful digital marketing and targeting practices that are shaping contemporary children’s media culture—on mobile phones, social media, gaming devices, and online video platforms,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, in a statement on the CDD website.

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