Sen. Nelson Still Has YouTube Kids App Concerns

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) took to the Senate floor Wednesday to convey his continuing concerns about the YouTube Kids app and how discriminating, or not, it is in offering up kid-friendly fare.

That is according to a YouTube video of his speech, a link to which was circulated by his office.

He walked his audience through various storyboards of content he said was accessed via the app, including wine tasting, how to open a beer bottle with another beer bottle, and how to make sulfuric acid and "deadly chlorine gas." Is that appropriate for toddlers, he asked rhetorically, but answered anyway. "I don't think so."

He had reached out to Google with questions about their content and ad policies and got answers, but said their responses represented "steps in the right direction," but "not enough."

For example, he asked what policies governed the inclusion of the videos on the app. The answer was that it uses algorithms (not humans) in an automated system, that parents can flag YouTube about inappropriate content, which will be vetted by actual humans and content deemed inappropriate can be and is taken down within hours, and that parents are being given tools to better restrict the range of videos kids can access.

Nelson asked why should parents have to intercede when the beer content comes up with a search on "beer" in the app. "He said that seems contrary to common sense."

As to what factors determine content deemed by Google suitable for children, he said Google's answer was the automated systems and parental complaints. He said Google did not answer his question on what age range the suitability standard was aimed at.

Kids privacy advocates have complained, including formally to the Federal Trade Commission, about the content on YouTube kids, as well as the ads, which they say are not sufficiently distinguished from program content.

Nelson asked about the latter and Google's answer was that ads are clearly labeled. Nelson was not assuaged. He said that there has long been a constant tension about appropriate content, citing movies with its rating system. But he said that on an application specifically designed for children, "if we allow this kind of stuff to go on, then where are our common sense values."

"You don't want to be teaching a toddler about how to open a beer bottle with your teeth," he said.

He publicly thanked Google on the Senate floor for taking a first step, but said it was only that.

To read Google's response to Nelson, go here.

Center for Digital Democracy executive director Jeff Chester said they were continuing to provide input to the FTC as it investigates the app, and that problems go beyond the initial complaint. He said they would make public soon the additional info they were sharing with the commission.

John Eggerton

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.