The YouTube Kids app, launched in February to provide access to family-friendly videos on both Android and iOS, has been accused by around a dozen consumer groups of being “deceptive to children” in the way it mixes ads into programming. The NY Times reports that a formal complaint to the Federal Trade Commission is expected to be filed today.

[The complaint] argues, in essence, that YouTube is using advertising tactics like “host selling” – having cartoon characters sell products inside their show – that would be illegal if they were on television instead of online.

The groups argue that the app should be held to the same standards that apply to TV shows … 

TV programs are required to clearly distinguish endorsements and testimonials from general content, and to disclose relationships with product manufacturers. The videos accessible through the app do neither, argues the complaint.

“They are mixing entertainment and advertising in ways that have already been ruled unfair and deceptive to children,” said Dale Kunkel, a professor of communication at the University of Arizona, who is assisting groups on the complaint. “It is just that the precedent is in television, not digital media.”

While ads in the app are required by Google to comply with a “rigorous advertising policy,” much of the video content accessible through the app does not comply with this policy, says the complaint.

Google said that it had not yet seen the complaint, but was open to feedback.

When developing YouTube Kids we consulted with numerous partners and child advocacy and privacy groups. We are always open to feedback on ways to improve the app.

A previous run-in between Google and the FTC resurfaced recently when the WSJ leaked part of one of the investigative reports, claiming that the decision to clear Google of anti-competitive practices had been “a close call.” Google criticized the WSJ report for “inaccuracies.”

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