FTC asked to probe Google and YouTube Kids app

Published 7:29 am Tuesday, May 19, 2015

WASHINGTON — Google’s YouTube app for young children is under fire again from consumer groups that say the service is filled with content inappropriate for kids.

In a two-minute video, child-safety and privacy advocates highlight a slew of commercials, cartoons and how-to videos that they say have no business being shown to children younger than 5, YouTube Kids’ target demographic.

The video was sent Tuesday to regulators at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in support of a complaint filed last month asking for an investigation of the search giant.

A letter to the FTC accompanying the video argues that Google’s marketing deceives parents about the kind of content that their children will find on YouTube Kids.

“In reviews on Google Play and iTunes, parents report finding pornographic cartoons, videos laced with profanity, and videos featuring graphic violence,” reads the letter, which was filed by the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC).

YouTube Kids offers parental controls that help adults limit the amount of controversial content that youngsters can see. For instance, the app allows parents to disable the search function and to report inappropriate content directly from within the app. But some users of the service have asked for stronger measures.

YouTube Kids offers as many as 13 commercials for Budweiser beer and numerous videos about wine consumption, says Jeff Chester, executive director of the CDD, and Josh Golin, executive director of the CCFC. Another video available on the service is a curse-filled mash-up of the 1995 film “Casino” and a “Sesame Street” segment featuring Bert and Ernie.

“The app is rife with videos that would not meet anyone’s definition of ‘family friendly,’ ” the groups wrote in their letter.

A YouTube representative said in a statement that “we work to make the videos in YouTube Kids as family-friendly as possible and take feedback very seriously,” adding that “any videos that don’t belong in the app are removed.”

The FTC said it had received the letter and was reviewing it.

In April, the two groups asked the agency to investigate the search giant and to develop clearer rules about app-based marketing to children. At the time, Google said it developed YouTube Kids in consultation with child advocacy organizations. But Google’s technology prowess should be preventing mature content from ever appearing on YouTube Kids, Chester said.

“If they can serve the Fortune 500 their ads with precision pinpoint targeting, they can create an algorithm and review process so people don’t figure out how to juggle chain saws,” he said.