YouTube ads break FTC rules around children's programming, consumer groups say

The YouTube Kids streaming app, which was launched in February, has come under fire from consumer advocacy groups, which say that its video programming disregards Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules that limit the amount and type of advertising around children's programming.

The groups submitted a letter to the FTC this week complaining that the app features "take advantage of children's developmental vulnerabilities and violate long-standing media and advertising safeguards that protect children viewing television."

The letter details several practices that it says break the rules. For one, the app intermixes programming and advertising in a way that is deceptive to its viewers. It also offers branded channels by McDonald's, Fisher Price and other companies which have content that they consider to be "little more than commercials." Further, some of the "user-generated" videos are little more than thinly veiled product promotions, the groups allege.

Dale Kunkel, a professor of communication at the University of Arizona, called the YouTube Kids app "the most hyper-commercialized media environment for children I have ever seen. …Many of these advertising tactics are considered illegal on television, and it's sad to see Google trying to get away with using them in digital media," he said in the advocacy groups' joint press release.

For its part, YouTube disagreed with the letter's allegations. "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," the Google-owned provider told the Los Angeles Times.

YouTube designed the app to not just be kid-friendly, but with parental controls so that parents can limit the amount of time or the type of content kids see. The provider also said that it screens all the advertising on YouTube Kids prior to airing it on the app.

Ten groups signed the letter to the FTC, including  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, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, Consumers Union, Corporate Accountability International and Public Citizen.

For more:
- see this release
- Reuters has this story
- the L.A. Times has this story

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