Two child-safety and privacy advocate groups argue that Google's YouTube Kids is filled with content that is, in a shocking reality, inappropriate for kids. As a way to support their claim, the groups created a two-minute video which is actually a collection of media content such as cartoons, commercials and how-to videos from the app which they believe are not kid-friendly after all.
They presented the video to regulators at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with an accompanying letter, saying that Google's marketing scheme is deceptive and that parents should therefore have to be warned.
"Google is deceiving parents by marketing YouTube Kids as a safe place for children under five to explore when, in reality, the app is rife with videos that would not meet anyone's definition of 'family friendly,'" the groups said.
According to Google, the app uses a combination of automatic algorithms and user feedback in order to ensure that it is indeed child-friendly. They have referred to YouTube Kids as an open platform which means that anyone can post a video to the site.
Some examples of videos that the non-profit groups found in the app include a cartoon that has an explicit sexual language; a tutorial-like video that demonstrates how to make a noose; adult discussions on topics such as child suicide, pornography and family violence; activities such as tasting battery acid and juggling knives; and jokes that talk about drug use and pedophilia.
"Google promised parents that YouTube Kids would deliver appropriate content for children, but it has failed to fulfill its promise," said Aaron Mackey, an attorney who represents the groups, in a statement.
An FTC spokesman said that the agency is in the process of reviewing the filed complaints and added that he could not confirm nor deny about the investigation because of the privacy involved.
"YouTube Kids does not screen out content that's clearly inappropriate," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "Kids can get access to disturbing and violent videos. The FTC has to rein in Google to clean up its act."
YouTube Kids is described in the Google Play store as appropriate for children who are below 5 years old. In Apple's App Store, it is described as "Made for Ages 5 and Under" and had received over 1,000 ratings with an average of four stars out of five.
"While we work hard to get it right, it's nearly impossible to have 100 percent accuracy," said Google in the support section of the app.
A Google spokeswoman added that parents can switch off the app's search function if they want to further limit the content. Doing so will prevent inappropriate content to appear in search results. Moreover, kids will not be able to see any related or recommended content while watching videos in the app.
Photo: Esther Vargas I Flickr