Foul-mouthed Bert and Ernie take center stage in YouTube’s app battle

19 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Do-gooders complain that YouTube Kids app indecently exposes Michael Jackson’s crotch.

A foul-mouthed Bert and Ernie are giving YouTube Kids an image problem. Washington – Google’s YouTube app for young children is under fire again from consumer groups that say the service is filled with content inappropriate for kids.

Child and consumer advocacy groups complained to the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday that Google’s new YouTube Kids app contains “inappropriate content,” including explicit sexual language and jokes about pedophilia.In order to compete in an increasingly crowded marketplace of digital video content — from upstart live streamers like Meerkat and Periscope to growing streaming service Netflix to newly digital HBO — YouTube has to differentiate itself.YouTube For Kids released back in February and since then the app has been under fire from advocacy groups, especially a coalition of consumer and child advocacy groups who claim that the app fails to do its prime job.

A video of the Sesame Street duo swearing is a key exhibit in a petition sent to US regulators on Tuesday calling for censure of the Google-owned app. In a two-minute video, child-safety and privacy advocates highlight a slew of commercials, cartoons and how-to videos that they say have no business being shown to children younger than 5, YouTube Kids’ target demographic.

Google did not deny the allegations about its app, which it introduced with fanfare in February as “built with littles ones in mind,” but said it removes inappropriate content when users flag it. “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. Ironically though none of the content provided in the complaint came from the curated part of the application, but via its search function; that’s right, your two-year-old who can apparently type at 200 words per minute would actually have to go looking for it. Google Brain will collect huge amounts of data about how many people watch videos, how long they watch them, and other points of interest to spit out which videos a user should watch. Oh, and if parents are worried that their precious little darlings might be traumatised by stumbling across someone explaining how to grab their crotches Michael Jackson style in a dance move and end up in years of non-gender specific, politically correct counselling, the kicker is: the search feature can be turned off. The content is indeed appalling and if one uses the search term on the app, they will be presented with videos on how to juggle chainsaws and knives, and a how to video on toxic Chlorine gas.

There are other avenues by which Google is pushing YouTube as well: advertisements for content partners on public transport, for example, and an upcoming ad-free subscription service. Perhaps the solution for Google to protect itself from complaints by professional complainers who intentionally go looking to complain and whine about anyone they believe be inappropriate, is to simply permanently disable the search function, and label the product “not appropriate for do-gooders.” The FTC confirmed that it had received the complaint but gave no indication as to whether they would be proceeding with a full investigation into the complaint. The app is available to both iOS and Android platforms, and Google has assured parents that its search-algorithm filters present these kids with suitable short video.

And there have to be some rules for children.” Chester has been lobbying the FCC for years, including on rulings throughout the 1990s that limited commercial time on TV and made it illegal to collect young consumers’ data online. Advertising to kids on TV is a fraught business – even if you’re within the letter of all the laws, there are still public shaming campaigns by lobbying groups and savvy competitors when, for example, Nickelodeon advertises sugary cereals. But YouTube Kids and other kid-targeted web products are almost totally unregulated, with the exception of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which governs data collection. The content of online material consumed by kids, and the amount of advertising, isn’t subject to any existing laws – which may partly explain why kids like it so much. “What we’d like, frankly, is for the FTC to begin creating those safeguards,” said Chester. “We’d like to see the FTC standing up and saying you can’t have endless ads disguised as programs on YouTube Kids.” (The initial complaint cites YouTube Kids’ sponsored McDonald’s channel as an example of content that runs counter to YouTube’s own privacy policy.) “We work to make the videos in YouTube Kids as family-friendly as possible and take feedback very seriously,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. “Anyone can flag a video and these videos are manually reviewed 24/7 and any videos that don’t belong in the app are removed.

Regulating Google is especially apt now as the Mountain View search giant reportedly prepares to unveil more child-centric products this month at its Google I/O conference, Chester said. “If Google can’t protect kids in a closed app, what will happen when they open the floodgates to thousands of developers who want to cash in on youth?” he said. Verified email addresses: All users on Independent Media news sites are now required to have a verified email address before being allowed to comment on articles. More from WSJ.D: And make sure to visit WSJ.D for all of our news, personal tech coverage, analysis and more, and add our XML feed to your favorite reader.

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