Google’s YouTube Kids app, which offers a walled garden of content aimed at the 5-and-under set, is the target of a coalition of consumer groups urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the service as a potential violation of rules about advertising to children.
“The videos provided to children on YouTube Kids intermix commercial and other content in ways that are deceptive and unfair to children and would not be permitted to be shown on broadcast or cable television,” the groups wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to the FTC.
The coalition members include the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children Now, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog and Public Citizen.
An FTC spokesman said the agency has a copy of the letter and was evaluating it, but otherwise declined to comment.
The free YouTube Kids app, released in February, includes videos from Jim Henson Co., DreamWorks Animation, National Geographic Kids, Hit Entertainment and LeVar Burton’s “Reading Rainbow.” The apps carry a “limited number” of prescreened pre-roll video ads, which will exclude any click-throughs to websites or product purchasing offers, according to Google.
In a statement, a YouTube spokeswoman said: “We 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.”
According to YouTube, the groups it collaborated with on the kids’ app were Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely.org, the Family Online Safety Institute, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe) and WiredSafety.org.
But the groups criticizing the YouTube Kids app argued that the content includes material promoting products. “Many of the video segments endorsing toys, candy and other products that appear to be ‘user-generated’ have undisclosed relationships with product manufacturers in violation of the FTC’s guidelines concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising,” the groups said.
YouTube Kids provides parental controls, including a timer for watch time and the ability to toggle sound and search on or off. Channels and playlists are organized into four categories: Shows, Music, Learning and Explore.
The YouTube Kids app is available initially in the U.S. on Apple’s iTunes App Store and Google Play for iOS and Android devices, respectively.