House panel investigating YouTube for advertising practices on kids' platform

House panel investigating YouTube for advertising practices on kids' platform
© Stefani Reynolds

A House panel launched an investigation Tuesday into YouTube’s advertising practices on its platform for children.

Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiHouse subcommittee presses Johnson & Johnson on plan to offload baby powder liabilities Overnight Health Care: CDC encourages schools to open for in-person learning, masks optional | President directs moves on drug importation, calls for plan to lower drug prices | FDA asks for federal investigation of Alzheimer's drug approval Bipartisan lawmakers press NIH for info on deleted coronavirus data MORE (D-Ill.), chair of the Oversight and Reform subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, sent a letter to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki requesting documents about YouTube Kids amid concerns over the content and advertisement practices for children.

Krishnamoorthi wrote that YouTube Kids “appears to be serving up inappropriate, low-education, highly commercial content.” 

ADVERTISEMENT

“I believe that may be ascribable to your advertisement-based business model and reliance on free uploads of user-generated videos without adequate quality control. YouTube profits from this disservice of children with more paid ads and more corporate revenue,” he wrote.

YouTube reached a $170 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in September 2019 to settle allegations that it collected personal information of users who watched videos that were directed toward children and then using the data for targeted advertising.

The platform unveiled a series of changes in January 2020 aimed at making content safer for children, including restricting data collection for people watching videos meant for children and stopping targeted ads on content for minors.

Krishnamoorthi wrote Tuesday that despite the changes, ads may be reaching children “in other concerning manners.”

“It appears that a high volume of ‘made for kids’ videos are smuggling in hidden marketing and advertising with product placements by children’s influencers,” he wrote. "YouTube does not appear to be trying to prevent such problematic marketing.”

Krishnamoorthi also cited a study from the University of Michigan that found nearly half of videos viewed by people under 8 years old feature content for them to buy, while only 4 percent had high-quality educational content.

ADVERTISEMENT

“This analysis paints a picture of a wasteland of vapid, consumerist content, such as ‘toy unboxing’ videos, ‘toy play’ videos, and videos of people playing video games,” he wrote.

The Hill has reached out to Google, YouTube's parent company, for comment.

The investigation comes as social media’s impact on children becomes a bipartisan talking point on Capitol Hill. GOP lawmakers last week asked Google, Facebook and Twitter for data on their platforms’ impact on children’s mental health.