The YouTube Kids app, announced in February as a child-friendly, parent-approved YouTube experience, is already coming under scrutiny as a coalition of watchdog groups, including the Center for Digital Democracy, have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The complaint alleges that YouTube Kids has violated several broadcast rules meant to protect children from targeted advertising. This brings up a broader issue: Is an online video app like YouTube Kids considered broadcasting, and thus subject to extra scrutiny?
The complaint filed to the FTC notes that the mixing of commercials with video content would not fly on traditional broadcasting for children, which must abide by 40-year-old Federal Communications Commission (FCC) laws created to protect kids from TV hosts and shows hawking content they have been paid to promote, as The San Jose Mercury News points out. Jeff Chester, director for the Center for Digital Democracy, came out swinging against YouTube’s lax policing of content on the YouTube Kids app. Quoted in the The San Jose Mercury News article, Chester cites a lack of disclosure that particular channels are sponsored by toy companies–especially channels featuring popular toy unboxing videos. Chester also noted YouTube Kids, because it streams videos back-to-back and lacks the five-second bumper between videos required of kid-focused broadcast TV.
There is no question that YouTube Kids is pitched as children’s entertainment. The real question is whether it is subject to the FCC’s rules. Because YouTube Kids is a publicly available app, it would be subject to FTC enforcement if that agency finds this complaint valid. By views and audience alone, YouTube rivals traditional television: its most popular channels have millions of subscribers, and its celebrities have substantial followings that start (and fill) their own conventions. If the FTC does find that YouTube Kids has violated FCC rules, the agency may investigate YouTube’s methods, says Georgetown Institute for Public Representation law professor Angela Campbell, who helped file the complaint.
“I think they’ll take it very seriously. These are very serious claims,” Campbell told The San Jose Mercury News. “They could subpoena info about how the algorithms work and who the sponsors are. Or Google could stop doing this and it would go away.”
[via The Verge]