Groups push feds on marketing content featuring online personalities

Consumer groups on Friday asked federal regulators to investigate companies Google and other companies that benefit from marketing aimed at children that centers on influential online personalities.

Public interest groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission that names Google, which owns YouTube, and several companies that produce the marketing content.

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“It is past time for the FTC to act,” the groups said. “The Commission must take swift action to safeguard children from unfair and deceptive influencer marketing.”

At issue are videos in which popular online personalities — the YouTube stars, for example, who flood the web with content — use or open products from advertisers. The groups said that the personalities are “people whose implicit or tacit endorsement of a product is designed to influence viewers and followers to want that product.”

The groups allege that these videos often don’t properly disclose their status as ads, and that they might fool children who aren’t capable of understanding the difference between content that is sponsored and content that is not.

“Child-directed influencer marketing is misleading to children because their developing brains do not process or understand advertisements the way adults do — especially advertisements disguised as content,” said Laura Moy, who directs the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University's law school, in a statement.

The complaint was filed by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy. They were joined by Public Citizen. Moy is representing the groups.

The complaint names not only Google but several studios involved in the production of marketing involving the online personalities.

The public interest groups have previously argued that YouTube, and its YouTube Kids product, in particular, doesn’t do enough to protect children from harmful advertising.