Consumer groups have targeted Google Inc. in an attempt to get US regulators to investigate the company's advertising on Android and iOS app YouTube Kids.
Groups say that Google is involved with âdeceptively blending advertising and programming', Bloomberg reports. Those taking part in this appeal are groups such as the Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumers Union, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
"YouTube Kids exploits children's developmental vulnerabilities by delivering a steady stream of advertising that masquerades as programming," Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said in the statement.
They also said that YouTube Kids branded channels for Barbie, Lego, and McDonald's do not explicitly advertise their products, instead placing them in the videos that the children watch. An example of this is shown in a gift-opening video where the child is very eager to open a present that he is give. It turns out to be one from Mattel's own toy chain, Fisher Price.
Another is shown from McDonald's and their choice in using Happy Meal advertisements rather than other products due to the main demographic for the Happy Meal being that which most frequently uses the app.
The letter also states that the length of advertising is in conflict with Google's own advertising policy. As stated in their policy, the length of advertisements to children in the app can only be 30 seconds of non-skippable content, or skippable versions of up to 60 seconds. Beta News are reporting that despite this, there are instances of ads longer than 60 seconds.
According to Google, however, during the development of the app they were in contact with child advocacy and piracy groups to avoid issues such as these. A spokeswoman for Google, Niki Christoff, defended their efforts:
"We were not contacted directly by the signers of this letter and strongly disagree with their contentions, including the suggestion that no free, ad-supported experience for kids will ever be acceptable. We disagree and think that great content shouldn't be reserved for only those families who can afford it."
Investigations will start once the FTC receives the request that was filed, and if any unlawful activities are found during this process Google will likely pay substantial fines. In addition, the possibility of a complete closure of the app could occur if there were no better alternatives.
Similar run-ins with the FTC has caused Google trouble in the past, most notably with the company agreeing to pay $19 million to settle a claim that they failed to get parental consent for charges incurred by children playing games on mobile devices.