WASHINGTON, D.C -- U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is seeking answers from Google CEO Larry Page on recent reports that YouTube Kids contained content inappropriate for children. In a letter sent late Tuesday, Nelson is asking the company to detail, among other things, how it selects content for the new app and what steps it’s taking to ensure kids aren’t exposed to unsuitable content.
“As parents seek out safe and appropriate online venues for their children, it is critical that services designed and marketed for children are, in fact, appropriate for the kids who will undoubtedly use them,” Nelson wrote.
Below is the text of the Nelson’s letter.
June 16, 2015
Mr. Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
1600 Amphitheater Way
Mountain View, CA 94043
Dear Mr. Page:
I am writing to express my concern over news reports that Google’s YouTube Kids service contains content inappropriate for children. The reports indicate that certain content on YouTube Kids includes explicit and profane language; discussions or jokes about mature subject matters such as child abuse, drug use, and pedophilia; demonstrations of unsafe behaviors; and alcohol advertisements. Furthermore, I am concerned that YouTube Kids may be failing to separate commercial advertising from free content programming in a manner understandable to children.
Google introduced its YouTube Kids service as a safe haven for children to access age appropriate video content. I applaud the company’s effort to create appropriate venues for children who increasingly use online services for educational and entertainment purposes. However, in so doing, any such service must take great care to ensure that children are not unnecessarily exposed to inappropriate content, especially since parents may rely on the very notion that such a service is “for kids” and, thus, safe for their unfettered usage. Given Google’s considerable technical expertise, the company can presumably and readily deploy effective filtering tools to screen for unsuitable videos.
Furthermore, online children services that feature commercial advertising – some of which may masquerade as content – should be clearly distinguished. Numerous studies have shown that children have difficulty understanding and discerning the difference between advertising and non-advertising video content. YouTube Kids should be sensitive to this well-known vulnerability.
As Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), I am committed to consumer protection, including protecting children from products and services that are deceptively marketed as being suitable for them. Section 5 of the FTC Act broadly prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” Moreover, the FTC enforces the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires online services for children 12 years old and younger to acquire parental consent before collecting any online information. As parents seek out safe and appropriate online venues for their children, it is critical that services designed and marketed for children are, in fact, appropriate for the kids who will undoubtedly use them.
In order to help me understand Google’s safeguards with regard to YouTube Kids, I request that you answer the following questions:
1) How does Google determine what content can be included on YouTube Kids? Within this context, specifically:
a. What policies and procedures govern the inclusion of videos on the service?
b. What factors determine whether content is suitable for children?
c. For what age range must the content be suitable?
d. What steps, such as filtering, does Google take to ensure that unsuitable content does not appear in search results on YouTube Kids? Do these steps apply to new content uploaded to YouTube Kids?
2) What are Google’s policies and procedures with regard to consumer complaints on the suitability of content already on YouTube Kids?
a. How long after content is flagged does Google assess its suitability?
b. How does Google remove content that is deemed unsuitable for YouTube Kids and ensure that it continues to be inaccessible on YouTube Kids?
3) What policies and procedures govern how Google determines the suitability of advertisements and whether they can appear on YouTube Kids?
4) What policies and procedures does Google use, if any, to distinguish advertisements and paid content from unpaid content on YouTube Kids?
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.