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Published On: Mon, Feb 1st, 2016

YouTube’s Kids App Markets Junk Food to Children, Child Advocacy Groups Say

In November of 2015, Google launched a “kid-friendly” version of their YouTube app in Canada. The app is called “YouTube Kids,” and it’s intended to be a safe space for children under the age of 12 to learn and explore on the internet.

At launch, however, the app was already embroiled in controversy over what some groups are calling inappropriate advertisements and product placement. Specifically, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, or CCFC, and the Center for Digital Democracy, or CDD, say they’ve found dozens of instances of marketing and product placements that are inappropriate under Canadian law.

“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 Josh Golin, a representative of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

In Canada, it’s illegal to broadcast advertisements aimed at preschoolers. In addition, the use of cartoon characters or popular stars from children’s programming in marketing is strictly prohibited. Canadian law also limits any food advertising that might encourage an unhealthy diet. YouTube Kids, however, is not a broadcast platform—it’s an internet service.

That’s why groups like the CCFC and CDD are appealing to a trade commission, as opposed to a broadcast regulator.

PBS

PBS

While Google claims they do not allow direct marketing to children, critics of the platform say the company is essentially skirting the rules by engaging in tactful product placement and indirect “influencer marketing”.

For example, one 11 minute video, which features Disney’s own YouTube sensation Evan, the young star and his sister hold a competition to see who can properly identify 12 different flavors of Oreo cookies. It’s these kinds of videos critics of YouTube Kids are so worried about.

In addition, the CCFC and CDD say they found 47 TV commercials and 11 promotional videos for Coke and Coke Zero on the YouTube Kids app. This may be incidental, as Coca-Cola had previously pledged to stop all marketing of their soda to children through Canada’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

“The complaints being lodged against Google may or may not be valid,” says Gregory Harlingen, a family law attorney in San Diego. “We’ll see how the courts handle this issue.”

According to CBC News:

It is the second complaint to the FTC over advertising to children on YouTube Kids. The first was filed in April after the app launched in the U.S. This complaint enlarges on the relationship between advertisers and makers of the YouTube videos, highlighting the use of ‘influencer marketing’ in creating the videos. The CCFC claims Google is engaged in ‘harmful, unethical, and irresponsible practices’ that target the youngest children.

Despite the controversy, the app’s developers remain optimistic about its potential. “Any ad that appears there is an ad bumper that makes it very clear that an ad is about to show,” said Angela Lin, head of YouTube Kids & Learning Partnerships in North America.

“We wanted to make the YouTube Kids app free for kids anywhere in the world, so we use ad supporters to make sure that the people who are creating the content are able to be sustainable.”

Guest Author: Lolita Di

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