Consumer Watchdog: Google’s YouTube Kids Should Follow Children TV Ad Rules

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Broadcast TV and the Internet video have long played by different rules. But when it comes to programming to children, a group of privacy and consumer advocates think it is time for a common set of guidelines.

“Google’s YouTube Kids should play by the same rules as broadcasters,” said John Simpson, director of the Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project during a press conference Tuesday.

Consumer Watchdog along with 9 other groups filed a complaint with the FTC charging Google with unfair and deceptive practices in connection with its new YouTube Kids app.

The TV rules that Simpson invoked were first put in place in the 1970s.  Since then broadcasters have dealt with an expanding list of strictures that the FCC has imposed on advertising and programming aimed at children:

  • No program tie-ins—a toy or product can’t be a character in the main show.
  • No selling by the program’s host—Bozo the Clown can’t tell children how delicious Go-gurt snacks taste.
  • A clear distinction between commercials and the program—“And now, back to the show…” is a staple bumper in all kids programming.
  • And, in the FCC’s eyes, if a program fails to adequately separate program and commercial material, the entire duration of the program may be counted as “program-length commercial.”

According to Simpson, precautions such as these are nowhere to be found on YouTube Kids.  “We’re not against commercials to children, said Simpson, but “there needs to a clear separation based on how children perceive commercial announcements.”

Google said in a statement that they “worked with numerous partners and child advocacy groups when developing YouTube Kids.”

“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,” said a Google spokesperson.

An FTC spokesperson said that “the Commission has received the letter and will review the concerns raised by these groups.”

The complaining groups say that they are working to set up a meeting with Jessica Rich, the FTC’s consumer protection chief, and her staff.

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