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Google is refuting claims by a group of consumer advocates that its new YouTube Kids mobile app targets young children with unfair and deceptive advertising. Google introduced the app in February as a "safer" place for kids to explore videos because it was restricted to "family-focused content." But the consumer activists say the app is so stuffed with advertisements and product placements that it's hard to tell the difference between entertainment and commercials. One example they cite is a 7-plus-minute video of Disney's "Frozen" characters who appear as dolls inside a toy McDonald's, eating ice cream and drinking Sprite. "This blending of children's programming content with advertising material on television has long been prohibited because it is unfair and deceptive to children," the consumer advocates said in a letter Tuesday to the Federal Trade Commission, asking it to investigate. The activists say digital media should be subject to the same rules as television, which limits commercial content on kids' programming.
In a statement, YouTube denied the coalition's claims. "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, including the suggestion that no free, ad-supported experience for kids will ever be acceptable," a spokesperson said. "We disagree and think that great content shouldn't be reserved for only those families who can afford it."
Groups that signed the letter to the FTC were the Center for Digital Democracy, the 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. FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan said the commission will review the concerns raised by the groups.
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