Two child-advocacy groups are asking federal regulators to investigate why YouTube Kids, a mobile app for young children, features commercials and other content promoting soda, candy and other junk foods.
In a complaint filed this week with the Federal Trade Commission, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) said they found "hundreds" of commercials and promotional videos on the site touting unhealthy food and beverage products.
Many of the companies that make the products are members of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, an industry self-regulation program that has pledged not to advertise to children under 12, the complaint says.
"Far from being a safe place for kids to explore, YouTube Kids is awash with food and beverage marketing that you won’t find on other media platforms for young children," CCFC’s Josh Golin said in a statement. "The Commission should investigate why Google’s algorithms aren’t configured to keep junk food marketing off of YouTube Kids, and hold food and beverage companies accountable for violating their pledges not to target their most unhealthy products to children."
In a statement, a YouTube spokesperson said YouTube Kids prohibits paid advertising for all food and beverage brands.
"We also ask YouTube creators to disclose if their videos contain paid product placement or incentivized endorsements and we exclude those videos from the YouTube Kids app. The app contains a wide-range of content, including videos with food-related themes, but these are not paid advertisements," the spokesperson said. "We also provide parents the ability to turn search off and restrict the YouTube Kids experience to a more limited set of videos."
It’s not the first time the two groups have raised issues with Google’s kid-friendly version of YouTube. Earlier this year, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy were among a coalition of consumer advocates that complained to the FTC that YouTube Kids was targeting youngsters with unfair and deceptive advertising.
Since Google launched YouTube Kids in February, the app has been downloaded over 10 million times.