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YouTube for Kids Debacle Exposes the YouTube Data Honeypot

April 9, 2015

I’ve often tried to get you to think of YouTube as a data honeypot masquerading as a video site.  This is kind of a “dog on a mirror” idea for most people and it’s not easy to get your mind wrapped around.  So check this out.

Dale Kunkel, Professor Emeritus of Communication at the University of Arizona, wrote an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News (the New York Times of Silicon Valley) exposing how Google uses the YouTube for Kids app to collect data on kids that Google couldn’t collect any other way.

The mobile app YouTube for Kids charts new territory in the digital exploitation of children. Advertising pays the bills for media products old and new, and caveat emptor has its place with adults. But children are different.

Google, which owns the app, clearly took off its kid gloves in designing the commercial side of this new product. Now the feds have been asked to clean up the mess.

The Washington Post tells us that (“YouTube Kids runs ads that would be illegal on television“):

In the 1970s, federal regulators created rules to curb the amount of advertising during children’s programs. The rules restricted shows from promoting products within their programs and prohibited advertisers from creating entire shows out of their products. On YouTube Kids, dozens of videos are created by  Lego, along with many user-generated videos focused on Lego products.

“YouTube Kids is the most hyper-commercialized media environment for children I have ever seen,” said Dale Kunkel, professor of communication at the University of Arizona. “Many of these advertising tactics are considered illegal on television.”

For decades, advertising to children on television has been held to tougher rules than commercials for adults. Federal regulators have long been concerned that kids are more vulnerable to marketing and have a tougher time distinguishing between an ad and a show.

Now with new apps, such as YouTube Kids, hosting videos aimed at children,the same rules aren’t being applied, opening up children to more advertising than ever before, according to a group of children’s advocacy and public interest groups. In a complaint to be filed to the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday, the groups alleged YouTube Kids, owned by Google, contains a host of videos created by McDonald’s, Fisher Price, American Greetings and other companies aimed at getting children to buy their products.

If you’ve been following the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of “Googlegate” and Senator Mike Lee’s corruption investigation into Google’s political influence over the Federal Trade Commission, you may not be relieved to know that the FTC has opened an investigation into YouTube’s deceptive advertising practices.  In other coverage on the YouTube for Kids scandal, the Washington Post reports (“FTC to Review Complaint that YouTube Kids Over Advertises to Children“)

The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday said it will review complaints by consumer groups that YouTube Kids is a hyper-commercial app with junk food and toy ads flooding the video service.

Several consumer advocacy groups filed a complaint with the commission saying YouTube’s free app that launched in February contains too many ads that young children can’t distinguish from entertainment. On television, federal rules keep advertising to a minimum on children’s programs but on the app and others like it, the groups say those rules are disregarded.

The FTC said in a statement that it received the complaint and “will review the concerns raised by these groups.”

Anything change your mind about YouTube as a data honeypot?

As Professor Kunkel concluded:

[Google] needs to come to its senses and scrub this product clean of its many unfair and deceptive advertising tactics. If it doesn’t, the FTC will soon inform them that loopholes aren’t allowed where child protection is concerned.

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