Google's YouTube app for young children is under fire again from consumer groups who argue the service is filled with inappropriate content for kids.
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 under 5 years old, YouTube Kids' target demographic.
The video was sent Tuesday to regulators at the Federal Trade Commission in support of a complaint filed last month asking for an investigation of the search giant.
A letter to the FTC accompanying the video claims that Google's marketing deceives parents about the kind of content their children will find on YouTube Kids.
"In reviews on Google Play and iTunes, parents report finding pornographic cartoons, videos laced with profanity, and videos featuring graphic violence," reads the letter, which was filed by the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC).
YouTube Kids offers parental controls that help adults limit the amount of controversial content that youngsters can see. For instance, the app allows parents to disable the search function and to report inappropriate content directly from within the app. But some users of the service have asked for stronger measures.
YouTube Kids offers as many as 13 commercials for Budweiser beer and numerous videos about wine consumption, according to Jeff Chester, executive director of CDD, and Josh Golin, executive director of CCFC. Another video available on the service is a curse-filled mashup of the 1995 film "Casino" and a Sesame Street segment featuring Bert and Ernie.
"The app is rife with videos that would not meet anyone’s definition of 'family friendly,'" the groups wrote in their letter.
A YouTube spokesperson said in a statement that "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."
The FTC said it had received the letter and was reviewing it.
In April, CDD and CCFC asked the agency to investigate the search giant and to develop clearer rules about app-based marketing to children. At the time, Google said it developed YouTube Kids in consultation with child advocacy organizations.
But Google's technology prowess should be preventing mature content from ever appearing on YouTube Kids, said Chester.
"If they can serve the Fortune 500 their ads with precision pinpoint targeting, they can create an algorithm and review process so people don't figure out how to juggle chainsaws," said Chester.