In February, YouTube debuted a new app aimed at its youngest viewers. With YouTube Kids, children and their parents could find a curated collection of family-friendly content, all available at the touch of a button. While the app has succeeded at filtering out the videos that are irrelevant to kids, it has also come under fire from several children’s advocacy groups. According to Reuters, a number of organizations, including the Center for Digital Democracy, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Consumers Union, will push to FTC to investigate YouTube Kids, citing the “deceptive and unfair” branded content it contains.
The videos these groups are referring to are sponsored offerings that “intermix commercial and other content.” One example the groups cite is EvanTubeHD, a channel on which a youngster named Evan exuberantly reviews the toys his parents give to him. Toy companies often provide Evan with new toys to play with, and while disclaimers at the start of his videos inform viewers of his brand deals, the advocacy groups believe his channel needs stricter regulations in order to prevent it from deceiving kids.
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The advocacy groups believe content on YouTube Kids does not comply to federal rules that protect children who struggle to recognize branded content. The infringing videos, which also include offerings from the official channels of McDonalds and Fisher-Price, “would not be permitted to be shown on broadcast or cable television,” reads the letter that will be sent to the FTC.
YouTube, unsurprisingly, does not agree with the complaints levied against its new app. “We worked with numerous partners and child advocacy groups when developing YouTube Kids,” a spokesperson for the company told Reuters. “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.”
YouTube Kids spent at least one year in development, so it’s reasonable to assume YouTube has indeed considered the legality of the branded content on the app. But even if this complaint blows over, it still underscores a fine line YouTube content creators are toeing when they release sponsored videos. Previously, a watchdog in the UK went on the attack against YouTube stars like Dan Howell and Phil Lester, who had allegedly failed to adequately mark their sponsored videos.
Branded content isn’t leaving the online video industry anytime soon, and as it becomes more popular, its rules may need to be redefined. For that reason, the battle between the children’s advocacy groups and YouTube is about a lot more than just Nerf guns.