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Privacy Groups Hit YouTube Kids Again

WASHINGTON — Google continues to take hits from privacy groups over its YouTube Kids app, but now pay TV providers and many other players are being added to the list of companies those groups want the Federal Trade Commission to investigate, at least as they relate to Google.

The Center for Digital Democracy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have filed two new complaints against YouTube with the FTC, saying it continues to engage in unfair and deceptive practices.

In the two related filings, they asked that the probe include “multichannel video programmers; food, beverage and toy companies; its major You- Tube advertising and ‘unboxing’ video partners; and companies that specialize in ‘influencer’ and product-placement marketing on YouTube.”

In one of the complaints, the groups want the FTC to hold a host of food and beverage companies for violating self-regulatory pledges they made as part of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), citing what they said were hundreds of commercials and promotional videos for products the companies had pledged not to market to kids under 12.

Google made changes in its YouTube Kids app following initial complaints about it from the group — including giving parents the option to restrict searches — but the groups said those changes don’t solve the cited problems.

The second complaint expands on the original complaint filed earlier this year, adding videos that “appear to result” from the relationship between advertisers, YouTube, pay TV distributors and advertising agencies specializing in “influencer” marketing.

A Google spokesperson was not available for comment at press time, but responded when the groups filed a supplement in April to their original complaint: “Anyone can flag a video, and these videos are manually reviewed 24/7 and any videos that don’t belong in the app are removed. For parents who want a more restricted experience, we recommend that they turn off search.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, also has concerns about YouTube Kids and said he was not assuaged by the changes, calling them a first step.

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.