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Advocates say YouTube is showing kids explicit, profane videos

Advocates say YouTube is showing kids explicit, profane videos
© YouTube Kids

Two advocacy groups say an app designed by YouTube for children allows them to view age-inappropriate videos.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Digital Democracy have sent information to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that they say shows that YouTube and its parent company, Google, are misleading parents by telling them the app, YouTube Kids, only shows videos that are safe for children.

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"Google promised parents that YouTube Kids would deliver appropriate content for children, but it has failed to fulfill its promise,” said Aaron Mackey, an attorney for the groups, in a release. “Parents rightfully feel deceived by YouTube Kids."

The groups sent the FTC a compilation of videos from YouTube Kids, including a profane song featuring the Animaniacs, a tutorial for how to do one of Michael Jackson’s signature crotch grab dance moves and a video of someone playing with a lit match.

They also said that they had found a video on YouTube Kids that was a profane spoof of the 1995 film "Casino" — but starring Burt and Ernie from "Sesame Street."

Released earlier this year, YouTube Kids is marketed as a way for preschool-age children to browse the streaming site’s vast library of content without stumbling upon something that might be age-inappropriate.

“When your child browses the app’s home screen, they’ll find a vast selection of kid-appropriate channels and playlists,” says the app’s description on the Google Play store. “When families search in the app, we use a mix of input from our users and automated analysis to categorize and screen out the videos that make parents nervous.”

The groups say that this screening process is deficient.

“In sum, Google does not, in fact, 'screen out the videos that make parents nervous' and its representations of YouTube Kids as a safe, child-friendly version of YouTube are deceptive,” they said in their letter to the FTC. “Parents who download the app are likely to expose their children to the very content they believed they would avoid by using the preschool version of YouTube.”

In a statement to The Washington Post, YouTube said while it takes feedback "very seriously," it stands by its screening practices.

The groups previously filed a complaint that alleges the app was taking advantage of its young users’ “developmental vulnerabilities” when targeting them for advertising.