According to The Guardian, an incredible array of acronyms in the form of child welfare agencies intend to file an FTC complaint against YouTube for issues related to the YouTube Kids app, a free app that allows parents to let kids watch videos without worrying about them running into the more adult aspects of the Internet. There are about a dozen groups involved in the filing of the complaint, including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Advertising to kids is super ungood
I’m of about three or four minds about the complaint, which I’ll get to in a bit, but first, let me go over the complaints, of which there are several. These complaints focus broadly on the fact that kids are being exposed to a range of ads and are not able to differentiate between programming and advertisements. The staff attorney for Georgetown Law’s Institute for Public Representation who filed the complaint with the FTC told The Guardian:
Our primary concern is that children are exposed to an endless stream of content that may not disclose that they have certain deals with product makers. And they just pop up on the screen in front of their kids, who are going to be served a lot of ads and not know the difference.
Related to this is that the YouTube Kids app isn’t required by law to follow the more stringent TV guidelines for children’s programming, which includes a five second buffer between a show and advertising. Those involved in filing the complaint also state that unboxing videos (also known as haul videos where people show off a bunch of things they’ve bought or been sent by a company) are basically thinly veiled advertising.
The last issue, which is the one that I think is the most valid, is that although Google promises parents that advertisements will not include food or candy, McDonald’s has its own channel and basically flat out advertises on it, even if the videos aren’t labeled as such. Additionally, according to a draft of the complaint obtained by the New York Times:
“[there are] …undisclosed relationships with product manufacturers in violation of the F.T.C.’s guidelines concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising….”
Still, parents don’t seem overly concerned
With all these terrible, no good, very bad advertising tactics being employed by Google, you’d think that parents would be more, or at all, up in arms about the YouTube Kids app. In fact, based on reading reviews of the app through the Google Store, the complaints I saw were functionality issues. Additionally, the app has more than 16,000 reviews and has a 4.1 star rating.
This may be because parents know that there’s no way to get children away from all advertising and its their job as parents to determine what is and is not bought for a child. I understand what the groups filing the complaint with the FTC are going for, but the fact is that they’re acting a bit like four year old will spend hundreds of dollars on frivolous stuff on their own. “No” is in point of fact an option when it comes to dealing with children that have seen advertisements.
Another issue I have is that they say that children cannot discern between which videos are ads and which are the actual videos. And? Kids want things after watching videos because kids want everything. You don’t have to actually tell a kid to want something as anyone who has ever gone anywhere with a child will attest. Kids are liable to end up wanting things after watching videos that have no promotional associations whatsoever. Since they’re not making the decisions… well, so what?
There’s also the elephant in the room that when you get right down to it, technically, the FTC doesn’t actually really have jurisdiction over this matter.
The complaint is addressed to the FTC, as distinct from the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees communications including broadcasting, cable (but not digital media).
The only area where the complaints have legal standing is if YouTube is in fact violating the aforementioned undisclosed relationships relating to endorsements and testimonials regulation. At that point, Google is more transparent about these relationships and the rest of the complaint is simply a large amount of paperwork. If they want something changed, they’re probably going to need to lobby for a new law that regulates media for children on the Internet.