Here Are 8 Issues With YouTube Kids, According To A Boston-Based Consumer Group

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YouTube Kids is an app with children's programs and parental guides, but some say it's too commercial for children. (Petras Gagilas/Flickr)
YouTube Kids is an app with children's programs and parental guides, but some say it's too commercial for children. (Petras Gagilas/Flickr)

If you're a parent, this might sound familiar: Your child wants to watch a video, and you turn to YouTube — it has easy access to just about everything. Sesame Street, Thomas the Tank Engine or Dora the Explorer.

But YouTube is also a scary place — who knows what other videos, and what kind of objectionable content, your child might find on that right-hand side bar.

So, if you're looking for an easy, kid-safe way to find videos your child would like, Google has an answer. It's a new app called YouTube Kids. It looks kind of like a simpler, cleaner version of YouTube, just with kid's shows.

But, if you look more closely, there's a problem. One group says it's a big problem, and they've filed a federal complaint against Google, which owns YouTube.

Note: We reached out to Google to participate in this conversation and did not hear back from them.


Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a Boston-based consumer group, which tweets @commercialfree.

Dr. Eugene Beresin, executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital. He tweets @GeneBeresinMD.

Here Are 8 Issues With YouTube Kids, According To A Boston-Based Consumer Group

1. Google is pitching this to parents as being kid-friendly:
Josh Golin:
"But it's the most hyper-commercialized media environment for children I've ever seen, and it obliterates long-standing principles and rules that are designed to protect children from unfair marketing."

2. There are "unbox it" videos for children's toys:
"These are, essentially, infomercials for the toys that these kids are unboxing and what we know is that...many of the producers of these videos actually have deals with toy companies or with media companies to make these videos. None of that is disclosed, and so what it ends up being is kids think they're just watching a kid who they see, kind of as a friend...because they get to know them from watching these videos, and they don't understand that, really...the purpose of this is to get them to want to buy the toy. In fact, many of these even say, like, 'This is available at Target.'"

3. It's hard to tell what's an ad and what's an episode:
"If your listeners can't tell whether it's an ad or if it's an episode of 'Thomas & Friends,' certainly kids can't. So, one of the things that there's always been in children's television is clear rules that, if you have a channel that is showing a program like 'Thomas,' that there can't be ads for 'Thomas' during that show, because that's incredibly confusing to young children. But that kind of thing happens all the time on YouTube Kids, where the very programming is next to ads featuring the same characters...adults could have a really hard time figuring out where the ads start."

4. There's product placement:
"Product placement is actually not allowed on children's television. So, it doesn't make any sense to us or to a lot of parents that if you're going to have these regulations that prohibit these types of advertising on children's television, if you change the screen, the rules shouldn't change."

5. Some reviewers have changed their opinion of YouTube Kids:
"Common Sense Media which wrote a pretty glowing review of the app when it first came out, [it's a] very well-respected children's advocacy group, after we filed our complaint they went back and changed the review to add some of these concerns and point out that there was really concerning marketing going on the app. One of the people who...was actually paid to consult on the app, a man named Larry Magid, said he didn't even know that some of these things were on the app when he reviewed it, and said that this is something, in terms of separating ads and content, that Google needs to get right. That's somebody that Google's paying and he sees a problem with this."

6. At a young age, children can't tell the difference between a show and an advertisement:
Dr. Eugene Beresin:
"On the other hand, I think young children...are just as influenced, in some ways, by watching television or looking at the Internet, when an advertisement pops up and is segmented from the show itself. Advertisements are incredibly appealing and they're ever-present...we shouldn't be letting our children have screen time at that age alone...Parents need to be watching with them and actually shutting it off if there's something that's offensive or confusing, and monitoring what the kids are actually watching."

7. Media literacy could help:
"Parents as well as kids need to learn media literacy from a very young age...The sooner we start teaching our children that, you know, it's great to see Elsa in a blue dress and wouldn't you like to have a 'Frozen' dress, which they'll all ask for, but you know, Christmas is gone and we're not getting prizes now. Or, we don't eat burgers in our house because we're vegetarians. So, part of this is educational as well. We can't combat the commercial forces that are out there, we can stop them from being embedded, we can try to make the rules equal."

8. YouTube Kids is designed for kids to use alone:
"It has huge navigation buttons that don't require literacy, you can do searches with voice recognition so kids don't need to be able to type, the very appeal of this app is for kids to be able to watch it by itself and Google is making promises to families that say, 'Hey, if you hand your kid your phone, your kid is in a safe space.' And what we're saying is, you're deceiving parents because it's not a safe place. The type of commercialism that happens here is not safe."


The Boston Globe: An Ad Or A Show? Some Say YouTube Kids Blurs The Line

  • "All appear on YouTube Kids, a new free app — described as 'kid-friendly content' for 'curious little minds' — that mixes ad-like videos with traditional shows."

This segment aired on April 21, 2015.


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