Two consumer groups have found some pretty appallingly adult content in Google’s ostensibly child-friendly video app, YouTube Kids.
The two groups allege that “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.'”
They’re not kidding. The groups — the Center for Digital Democracy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood — assembled a two-minute video of clips they’d found through the YouTube Kids app on a single day.
Examples of inappropriate content included:
- An Animaniacs episode where cartoon animals sing the words “piss,” “fellatio,” “penis,” and more;
- a dancer demonstrating how to do the Michael Jackson “crotch grab” move;
- a Budweiser ad;
- a TED speaker talking about his first suicide attempt as a teenager;
- President Obama joking with Jimmy Kimmel about marijuana;
- a guide to red wine;
- a demonstration of how to light a match and use it to set a pile of matches on fire;
- Sarah Jessica Parker in a puffy white dress, kicking in a shop window and setting off the alarm;
- a person onstage talking about how “several children will die today from physical abuse at the hands of their own parents.”
Here’s the video montage (warning: adult content, of course):
Google describes its Android app, which debuted February 23, as being “kid-friendly” and “for curious little minds,” but doesn’t say exactly what age it’s aiming for. It’s safe to say the designers probably had children under 5 in mind: The app’s home screen includes such kid favorites as Peppa Pig, Wallace and Gromit, Sesame Street, Caillou, and Teletubbies. There’s a “music” tab with kid-appropriate music, and a “learning” tab where kids can watch videos that teach them about science, how to make things, and more.
But there’s a Search button, and that is how kids can find their way to non-sanctioned content from YouTube. I was able to find the red wine and match videos in just a few minutes. A few search terms are blocked: You can’t search for “sex,” for instance.
Note: Parents can turn off the search capability in the app’s password-protected settings screen, but it is turned on by default.
Also, you can report videos as inappropriate: Just tap on the video to remove it from full-screen mode, tap on the three vertical dots in the upper right of the screen, and then press the “report” button. The videos remain accessible within the app after being reported, however.
A YouTube spokesperson provided this statement to VentureBeat, which essentially reiterates the app’s basic features:
We work to make the videos in YouTube Kids as family-friendly as possible and take feedback very seriously. 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. For parents who want a more restricted experience, we recommend that they turn off search.
Other unsavory stuff the consumer groups found, according to their press release:
- Videos that model unsafe behaviors such as playing with lit matches, shooting a nail gun, juggling knives, tasting battery acid, and making a noose
- A profanity-laced parody of the film Casino featuring Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street
- Graphic adult discussions about family violence, pornography, and child suicide
- Jokes about pedophilia and drug use
- Advertising for alcohol products
The groups announced their findings today, and are updating a complaint they made to the Federal Trade Commission on April 7. That complaint (.pdf) alleged that YouTube Kids included advertising and marketing material that was inappropriate for young children, who cannot distinguish between educational content and advertising. For instance, they allege, many videos intermix commercials with other content in confusing ways, or endorse toys, candy, or other products in violation of the FTC’s policies around paid endorsements.
That’s exactly the position taken by GamesBeat managing editor Jason Wilson in February: YouTube Kids is half-baked because it doesn’t protect children from the real threat: ads.
Updated 9:55 p.m. with the statement from YouTube.