A string of consumer rights groups and child protection advocates expressed their plans to file a complaint Tuesday with the Federal Trade Commission against YouTube, which allegedly infringed children’s rights by exposing them to too many commercials on its newly-launched YouTube Kids app.
YouTube Kids, which was rolled out in February, allows children to choose what to watch from hundreds of educational and entertainment programs. But among those programs there is also branded content that aggressively promotes the products and services of several corporations including McDonald’s, Hasbro, and Mattel, according to the groups.
Claimants also said that YouTube Kids’ commercial practices infringe the federal laws that heavily limit how advertisers target kids by exposing a very vulnerable target group to advertising. Young children, experts claim, cannot make the difference between entertainment and advertising.
“This is the most hyper-commercialized media for kids I have ever seen. Children don’t understand the persuasive intent of advertising,”
said Dale Kunkel, one of the drafters of the FTC complaint and a professor specialized in children’s media at University of Arizona.
The groups will urge the FTC to investigate the issue and stop the deceptive and unfair practices that it may uncover during its investigation.
On YouTube, commercials run ahead of videos 30 to 60 seconds. But the Federal Communications Commission is more restrictive on programs targeting children. For example, TV networks are not allowed to use “host-selling,” i.e. the kids’ favorite character in the program shows up with an advertised product during the program and lauds it or not.
Moreover, advertisers must make it clear whenever there is a commercial coming by using phrases such as “We’ll be right back after these messages” or “Now a word from our sponsor.”
According to the complaint, McDonald’s channel, among others, routinely breaks those rules by allowing TV-style ads in it and appearances “that are really promotions for McDonald’s products.”
Google-owned YouTube replied that their new app for kids was released after the company had asked for the opinion of a cohort of privacy and child advocacy groups. YouTube also said that its staff was open to feedback on methods to improve the app.
The FTC complaint was signed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Center for Digital Democracy, Children Now, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Public Citizen, and Consumer Watchdog.
In February, YouTube reassured parents that the app was “family friendly” by allowing them to limit the time their kids use to spend on the app and control the content their little ones are watching.
YouTube also makes sure that all advertising aired on its new app is family friendly.
A month ago, one of YouTube spokespersons stated that YouTube Kids app was the nest step to take since the popularity of family entertainment skyrocketed by 200 percent in only one year.
Nevertheless, while some parents were thrilled about it for its educational potential, other parents viewed the app as potentially dangerous for their children’s psyche.
Additionally, although The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend children under age 2 to watch TV or YouTube, about 70 percent of U.S. young children aged 2 to 5 actively use tablets.
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