Apr 7, 2015 · 1 minute

A coalition of advocacy groups plans to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that YouTube Kids, the child-focused video-streaming app released in February, blurs the line between programming and advertisement.

The groups claim that companies like McDonald's, Lego, and Barbie have used YouTube Kids channels to display ads in "ways that deceive children and parents." This is accomplished by uploading legitimate content, such as a cartoon featuring a popular Barbie character, with advertisements for the newest Barbie accessories.

The groups also allege that some user-generated videos are uploaded to YouTube Kids without disclosing financial ties to any of the companies featured in the video. It's a bit like finding out all the videos of children losing their shit when they got a Nintendo 64 were only made because Nintendo offered the parents some money.

All these things are already illegal. The problem, according to the groups, is that the rules aren't being enforced with new media sites. As they say in the complaint:

This blending of children’s programming content with advertising material on television has long been prohibited because it is unfair and deceptive to children. The fact that children are viewing the videos on a tablet or smart phone screen instead of on a television screen does not make it any less unfair and deceptive.
Here's what a Google spokeswoman told the New York Times:

A Google spokeswoman said the company had not yet seen the complaint, but stated in an email, 'When developing YouTube Kids we consulted with numerous partners and child advocacy and privacy groups. We are always open to feedback on ways to improve the app.'

Children Now, Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Digital Democracy, and other groups banded together to file the complaint. It's not clear how or when the FTC will respond to these allegations.

 [illustration by Brad Jonas]