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Advocates Add to ‘YouTube Kids’ FTC Complaint

WASHINGTON — The Center for Digital Democracy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have filed a supplement to their Federal Trade Commission complaint against YouTube Kids, saying it shows the app is not the safe place for children it is advertised to be.

In April, the groups asked the FTC to investigate the app, saying it deceptively blended content and marketing. Now, they say the content it is mixing with the ads is hardly a safe environment.

The groups say they found the following available via the YouTube Kids app: “Explicit sexual language presented amidst cartoon animation [a Family Guy parody of the FCC's indecency crackdown grafted onto another cartoon show]; videos that model unsafe behaviors such as playing with lit matches, shooting a nail gun, juggling knives, tasting battery acid and making a noose; a profanity-laced parody of the film Casino featuring Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street; graphic adult discussions about family violence, pornography and child suicide; jokes about pedophilia and drug use; advertising for alcohol products.”

The initial complaint hinged on the argument that mixing marketing messages with content in a site targeted to preschoolers was deceptive, which the FTC is empowered to act against. CDD executive director Jeff Chester calls the supplement "icing on the digital cake" that Google misled parents and the FTC has to act.

“Google does not, in fact, ‘screen out the videos that make parents nervous’ and its representations of YouTube Kids as a safe, child-friendly version of YouTube are deceptive,” the groups said.

Google had not returned a request for comment at deadline, but when the initial complaint was filed, the company blogged that it is focused on kids’ online safety as parents are, adding that parents can “quickly notify” YouTube directly from the app if they find any questionable content.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.