Advocates To FTC: Stop Google’s Deceptive and Unfair Practices on YouTube Kids

Washington, DC–Tuesday, November 24, 2015 –Two leading child advocacy groups filed new complaints today at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), urging the Commission to stop Google from engaging in unfair and deceptive practices toward children on its YouTube Kids app for kids five and younger. In two related FTC filings submitted today, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) also called on the FTC to broaden its investigation of YouTube Kids to include Google’s relationships with multichannel video programmers; food, beverage and toy companies; its major YouTube advertising and “unboxing” video partners; and companies that specialize in “influencer” and product placement marketing on YouTube.

“Our new complaints underscore why the FTC needs to stop Google from engaging in what are nothing less than harmful, unethical, and irresponsible practices that target America’s youngest children,” explained Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “The Commission now has ample evidence that Google’s actions are unfair and deceptive and violate Section 5 of the FTC Act. We call on Chairwoman Ramirez and the other Commissioners to complete their investigation and commence legal action against Google so that children and their parents will be protected when they use YouTube Kids.”

In one of the complaints (link is external) filed today, CCFC and CDD urge the Commission to hold 17 food and beverage manufacturers accountable for violating the self-regulatory pledges they made as members of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). A review of YouTube Kids by CCFC and CDD found hundreds of commercials and promotional videos for products these companies had publicly pledged not to market to children under the age of 12. For example, even though the Coca-Cola Company has pledged to not market any beverages to children under 12, CCFC and CDD found 47 television commercials and 11 longer promotional videos for Coke and Coke Zero on YouTube Kids. Similarly, Mondelez International has pledged not to market Oreos to children, but CCFC and CDD found 31 TV commercials and 21 product placements for Oreos on YouTube Kids. In one 11-minute video, the YouTube star Evan of “EvanTubeHD” and his sister compete to identify 12 different flavors of Oreos. [Evan HD is distributed by the Walt Disney Company’s Maker Studios division].

“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,” said CCFC’s Josh Golin. “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.”

“Food companies and Google have teamed up for an end run around America's parents,” said Dale Kunkel, Professor of Communication at University of Arizona. “YouTube Kids delivers hundreds of junk food video promotions while Google claims it allows no food advertising on the app, and food companies promise the FTC they won't advertise products like Snickers and Oreos to children. It’s hard to believe this is all happening in broad daylight.”

The second FTC complaint (link is external) filed today significantly expands upon the groups’ initial complaint filed on April 7, 2015 (link is external). It documents that many videos on YouTube Kids appear to result from relationships and payments between advertisers, YouTube creators, and various intermediaries, including multichannel video programmers and advertising agencies that specialize in “influencer” marketing. Because these relationships are not disclosed on YouTube Kids as required by the FTC’s Endorsement Guide, CCFC and CDD call on the FTC to investigate the contractual and other business connections between Google and its YouTube commercial partners and affiliates.

The second complaint also explains how changes made by Google to YouTube Kids do not alleviate the problems raised in the original complaint—that YouTube Kids targets children with deceptive and unfair advertisements, and Google markets YouTube Kids to parents in a deceptive manner. “When Google launched YouTube Kids in February, it falsely told parents that ‘all advertisements in the YouTube Kids app must comply’ with its Ad Policy prohibiting ads for certain products, including food and beverages,” said Professor Angela Campbell of Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Representation, counsel for CCFC and CDD. “Instead of enforcing its Ad Policy, Google changed its policy so that it does not apply to traditional TV commercials or longer promotional videos. This is a major disservice to children and parents alike.”


See complaints attached.