A generation or two ago, television was labeled a “vast wasteland.” Now it’s YouTube Kids that’s being denounced. Congressional critics say the Google-owned video service is “a wasteland of vapid, consumerist content” being fed to children to boost its advertising revenue.
Members of the U.S. House Oversight and Reform subcommittee says Google doesn’t do nearly enough to protect children from potentially harmful material, instead using its own artificial intelligence and leaving it up to video producers to look out for kids’ interests.
“YouTube Kids, as the name suggests, serves an audience of children, but it appears to be serving up inappropriate, low-education, highly commercial content,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) in a letter to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. “I believe that may be ascribable to your advertisement-based business model and reliance on free uploads of user-generated videos without adequate quality control.”
There’s nothing new about the charges. In 2019, Google agreed to pay $170 million to settle complaints that it was collecting personal data on children without their parents’ consent. Despite that, YouTube continues pumping out ads to kids, except that the ads are now based on what videos the kids are watching rather than on their personal data.
Google says it has gotten better.
“We’ve made significant investments in the YouTube Kids app to make it safer and to serve more educational and enriching content for kids, based on principles developed with experts and parents,” the company said in a statement.
Krishnamoorthi noted that Google promised in 2019 to reduce advertising aimed at kids, collecting only “what is needed to support the operation of the service,” but said Google appears to be still pursuing a policy of maximizing revenue, bringing in more than $20 billion in ad revenue last year.
The subcommittee’s letter also said that much of the marketing content is not considered advertising and thus not as tightly regulated.
“It appears that a high volume of ‘made for kids’ videos are smuggling in hidden marketing and advertising with product placements by children’s influencers,” Krishnamoorthi said. “YouTube does not appear to be trying to prevent such problematic marketing. In fact, YouTube tells parents that content may contain unidentified marketing, stating that “[v]ideos uploaded by users to YouTube are not Paid Ads and therefore they are not marked as an Ad nor are they subject to our advertising policies.”
According to public health experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there is no place for commercial ads to children younger than seven years of age. AAP firmly recommended: “Ban all commercial advertising to children younger than 7 years, and limit advertising to older children and teenagers.
The Subcommittee requested a response from Google regarding YouTube Kids in the United States market by April 20, 2021.