Google’s late-February release of its YouTube Kids application has stoked an uproar from privacy advocates that claim the app violates legislation in the U.S. to protect student and children’s data. This week, 11 organizations that advocate for children’s protection (and that of consumers) sent a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking for an investigation into Google’s latest venture. 

The privacy advocates argue that Google’s app is a well-masked service that requires the same regulations as ones that preside over children’s advertising in broadcast television and cable. Other criticism of the app cites that the app is so attractive, it could unhealthily draw in children to use it on levels that impair their other social development needs. Allison Fitzpatrick, partner in the Advertising, Marketing & Promotions Practice Group of law firm Davis & Gilbert, commented on the investigation as an expert in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). She noted that the majority of the complaints from privacy groups focus on allegations that the “app intermixed advertising with programming.” There was little mention of COPPA and other “privacy-related allegations.” 

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Further reading:

YouTube Kids raises some COPPA questions

New Barbie doll causes stir over children’s privacy

Student Digital Privacy Act would cover loopholes in COPPA

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Still, the complaints stand, and the FTC has been urged to investigate privacy practices “including whether it behaviorally targets children”, according to Fitzpatrick. She said — of Google’s pending legal mess:

“I am doubtful that the blurring of advertising and content would rise to the level of a Section 5 violation for unfair and deceptive conduct. However, if the allegations are true, the YouTube Kids app could be in violation the Children’s Advertising Review Unit’s Self-Regulatory Guidelines, which prohibit the blurring of advertising and content to children.” 

Regardless of the legal recourse needed to actually cite Google in this situation, Fitzpatrick says that the uproar can at least instigate more conversation around social media’s role in distinguishing between content and advertising. The next steps will be on the part of the FTC to determine if such claims by privacy groups are relevant and legitimate. Only then will there be a real rousing in regards to the app and its role in children’s lives and that market. 

Google has claimed that it is in line with COPPA, and naturally will step up to the plate to defend itself if any debacle should arise. Only six weeks into the YouTube Kids app release, it looks like the company could be in for a legal ride.