MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Prominent consumer and child advocacy groups on Tuesday will ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google’s new YouTube Kids application, arguing that the search engine giant is unfairly and deceptively targeting toddlers with advertising on tablets and smartphones.

“This is the opening shot in a new battle with Google, Nickelodeon, Amazon, Netflix, Cartoon Network and others that are trying to cash in on this generation of young children,” said Jeff Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “It’s a battle for the hearts and minds and pocketbooks of America’s kids in the digital age.”

Google has said its new kid-centric video service is its first product built “with little ones in mind.” But the mobile app has angered influential psychologists and consumer advocates including Chester, who in the late 1990s helped win a national campaign to protect children’s online privacy.

Their complaint accuses YouTube Kids of mixing commercial content with children’s video programming using practices banned on broadcast and cable television by another agency, the Federal Communications Commission. Those restrictions – such as banning children’s TV hosts or cartoon characters from hawking products during a show – emerged in the 1970s in response to research showing young children have not developed the cognitive skills to resist advertising or understand they are being targeted.

“Google simply ignored the basics,” Chester said. “They deliberately ignored the well-documented research on children’s developmental limitations when it comes to advertising and programming.”

Google did not respond to requests for comment Monday about the pending complaint.

Georgtown Law School’s Institute for Public Representation drafted the letter on behalf of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Consumer Federation of America, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children Now, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Consumer Watchdog, Corporate Accountability International, Public Citizen and the Center for Digital Democracy. The nation’s largest consumer advocate, Consumers Union, became the 10th organization to sign on to the complaint Monday.

The San Jose Mercury News was first to report about advocates’ concerns about advertising and product placement on YouTube Kids after Google introduced the app in February on Apple and Android mobile devices. At the time, Google said advertising made the service free. The company also said its own internal policy team would only allow commercials it deemed family-friendly.

Indeed, many of the 30-second or 60-second ads that can be found on the app are public service announcements and other civic messages. Others promote toys or entertainment brands.


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