YouTube Kids Accused Of Running Beer Ads, Crotch-Grabbing Lessons, Wine-Tasting Tips

The groups contend that the YouTube Kids app search function shows inappropriate material for children.

The groups contend that the YouTube Kids app search function shows inappropriate material for children.

Since Google launched the YouTube Kids app in February, the service has come under fire from consumer advocates for its advertising practices. Now, instead of focusing on the commercials shown through the service, several of those same groups are raising concerns with federal regulators over what they call disturbing and potentially harmful content for young children to view.

In a letter [PDF] sent today to the Federal Trade Commission, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) asked the agency to investigate the app after they found videos shown on the service contain inappropriate content including explicit sexual language, profanity, and jokes about pedophilia and drug use.

In the below video, using clips all allegedly pulled from YouTube Kids on the same day, the groups highlight videos that include, among others, a Budweiser beer ad, an instructional video on how to grab your crotch like Michael Jackson, a lecture about suicide, and footage from kids cartoon Animaniacs accompanied by a decidedly not-for-kids song from Family Guy:

“Making matters worse, the design of the app appears to facilitate access to videos that are inappropriate for children,” the letter states. “As users of YouTube Kids search for material, the app begins to recommend similar videos, as the ‘Recommended’ function on YouTube Kids is apparently based on ‘Search’ history. When we were conducting our review, YouTube Kids actually began recommending videos about wine tasting on its app for preschoolers. Thus, the more inappropriate videos children search for, the more inappropriate videos they will be shown via the app’s ‘Recommended’ function.”

The groups say they came across the questionable material after their first complaint to the FTC regarding concerns that YouTube Kids app was unfair and deceptive toward children and parents.

“In subsequent research of YouTube Kids conducted by the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, we have discovered that Google’s deceptive practices toward parents are even more widespread and pervasive than we documented in our initial request for investigation,” the letter states.

The groups contend that the allegedly inappropriate material is deceptive in light of Google’s public claims that the service is a safe place for children under five to explore.

Additionally, the groups tell the FTC that Google is further engaging in deceptive practice because many of the inappropriate ads would violate the company’s own policies.

“The YouTube Kids Advertising Policy states that ads for “Illegal or Regulated Products” such as alcohol are prohibited on the app,” the letter states. “As described above, CCFC and CDD found multiple videos for alcohol that appeared to be ads that previously aired on television.”

A spokesperson for Google tells the Wall Street Journal that content for the app is chosen using a combination of automatic filters.

If a user comes across content they feel is inappropriate they can flag the video and Google will manually review the video and remove it if it doesn’t fit the company’s guidelines, the spokesperson says.

Today’s complaint from CCFC and CDD is the second the groups have signed onto in regard to Google’s YouTube Kids app. Back in April, the advocates, along with those from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, and Public Citizen accused Google of violating Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive marketing practices.

According to that letter [PDF], the service violates multiple rules about youth-targeted advertising.

The FTC tells the Journal that it has received both of these complaints about YouTube Kids, but says it couldn’t comment on whether or not the agency was investigating these allegations.

Google’s YouTube Kids App Criticized for ‘Inappropriate Content’ [The Wall Street Journal]