Google’s YouTube Kids is Saturated with Stealth Ads

Posted on April 11, 2015 at 3:37 pm

In February of this year, Google launched the YouTube Kids app, specially designed for “little thumbs” to get kids hooked on devices and videos as soon as they can hold an iPhone. They assured parents that the app was completely safe to use and that all content was family-friendly.

I support the policy of the pediatricians’ association of no screen time of any kind under age two and strictly limiting it thereafter, but I recognize that there are times when it can be handy to have a way to distract and entertain a child. And I can appreciate how important it is for parents to have some way to allow kids to get what’s best on the internet without the risk that a search for say, “dolls” or “spanking” will bring up something disturbing or inappropriate.

Unfortunately, Google and YouTube Kids have saturated the app with commercials, including channels devoted to brands like McDonalds, Barbie, Fisher Price, and LEGO. A detailed complaint filed by a coalition of public interest groups representing children and consumers calls on the Federal Trade Commission to give parents the same kinds of protections that they have imposed on television programming directed at children, requiring a bright line demarcation between advertising and programming, for example.

YouTube Kids is a long way from that now. Much of the advertising is “native” and completely integrated with the other content. While some ads on the app have disclaimers noting, for example “compensation provided by McDonald’s,” this is a problem in an app for kids, who are (1) too young to understand what “compensation provided” means, (2) too young to comprehend the difference between sponsored and un-sponsored content, and (3) TOO YOUNG TO READ.

I was quoted in this SFGate article about advertising on YouTube Kids. “Google has said they are curating material they guarantee is OK for children, so they have to do better than this.”

Google says that they need advertising in order to keep the app free for all families. I appreciate that. But, as they say, on the internet, if you’re not the paying customer, you’re the product. We should not be selling our children to advertisers, and Google should not be acting as broker.  Visit the FTC’s website to file a complaint.

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Toys That Impair Imagination: The Over-Licensing of Children’s Toys

Posted on February 25, 2015 at 8:00 am

Copyright Nell Minow 2011
Copyright Nell Minow 2011

It’s always tempting to give children toys from the movies and television programs they love, and some of them are high-quality or even educational. But Melissa Atkins Wardy has a very good argument that the licensing of media tie-ins has just about obliterated any other kind of toy. We want children to have toys that help build their imaginations by giving them unlimited fantasy play, not toys that will just encourage them to replicate scenarios they have already seen.

This spells trouble for those of us looking for imaginative, open-ended toys that wait for the child to create the story line and character. Gender balance and diversity will leave much to be desired, as heroes are almost always white males and licensed characters come with easily identifiable gender roles. The negative, myopic influences from Hollywood are now packaged up for our kids. And the flip side is, we get less interesting, diverse media because a consideration for green lighting a series is “Can it sell toys ?” Play time should be an exchange of ideas from child to child, not Hollywood to child.

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Commentary Marketing to Kids Parenting

TOADY 2014: The Worst Toy of the Year

Posted on December 10, 2014 at 3:49 pm

I look forward to the TOADY (Toys Oppressive and Destructive to Young children) worst toy of the year award given out each year by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood with a horrified fascination. What could they have been thinking? The CCFC are the folks who exposed the fraudulent claims of “Your Baby Can Read” and “Baby Einstein.”

And this year’s winner: the AT&T U-verse app by BabyFirst. It is bad enough to encourage kids to stare at one screen. This app, incredibly marketed at kids ZERO to five, is intended to have them watch two at once. Children need to be interacting with people and using their imagination and curiosity. They need to be exercising. The last thing a toddler needs is another reason to turn into a couch potato.

It’s the fourth year in a row that voters awarded the dreaded TOADY to a screen-based toy for infants and toddlers. Parents, educators, and health professionals are clearly fed up with the escalating push to insinuate screens into every aspect of our youngest children’s lives. Kate Snyder of Burgin, KY captured the feeling of many TOADY voters, “Anytime I see screen technology marketed to infants, it automatically gets my vote!”

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Dr. Toy’s Best List 2014

Posted on October 16, 2014 at 8:00 am

Every year I look forward to Dr. Toy’s list of the best toys and games for kids. Steveanne Auerbach is the author of Dr. Toy’s Smart Play/ Smart Toys and a respected expert on toys that encourage learning and imagination. Her 10 Best lists include the ones she recommends most highly for building, being active, being creative, for learning, and for environmental sustainability.

My favorite: Time in a Box

Copyright FoxMind 2014
Copyright FoxMind 2014

Inside this box you’ll find 96 activity cards that allow a child to momentarily shift your priorities and focus on doing a special activity together. Play a board game, solve a puzzle, start a family tree, make a blanket fort, visit your local fire station or carry out an act of kindness that will bring a smile to a stranger’s face. A simple written agreement between you and the child sets the ground rules by which you’ll both abide.

Switch off your cell phone and get ready for some quality time! Season-by-season, with these inspired activities, you’ll have a wealth of ways to make memories together.

What is Time in a Box? A gift of dedicated time, an opportunity to try new things, a way to explore art and science, a chance to plan for the future and to consider the past, a way to tell a child in your life that they matter to you – more than anything!

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Guardians of the Galaxy Merch: Where’s Gamora???? Sigh.

Posted on August 10, 2014 at 8:00 am

Guardians of the Galaxy is enormous fun and a huge box-office hit, with loveable characters and a refreshing sense of humor about itself. Who wouldn’t want to extend the pleasures of the film with some merch, perhaps an action figure or a backpack?

The answer: anyone who is a fan of Gamora, the green-skinned assassin played by Zoe Saldana and the only female of the group.

Characters Copyright Marvel Studios 2014
Characters Copyright Marvel Studios 2014

Take a look at the Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy 16″ Large Backpack School Bag. Four of the five Guardians appear on it. Guess who is missing?  (If you need help, read the comments.) Weirdly, Amazon also lists a “boy’s backpack” with all five Guardians on it. I would love to have someone explain what it is that makes it a “boy’s” backpack.

Or take a look at this story of a woman whose children wanted action figures from the film.  Star Lord Peter Quill?  No problem.  Gamora?  Problem.  Kira Stewart-Watkins writes:

Star-Lord is everywhere but there was not a single Gamora to be seen. Even on the Guardians of the Galaxy t-shirts, no Gamora. Hey Marvel! She is one fifth of the team, what they heck! Even my six-year-old son noticed and passed up a t-shirt because he wanted her on it too. I asked the store if they were out, they said they do not carry her and suggested a Rocket raccoon instead. Not The Same.

Other people say “Well, just order her one online.” Okay, wait, so I get to say to my son “Hey here is your Star-Lord action figurine, we will buy him.” and to my other child “Oh wait, no Gamora, well we can order her online and you will get her in 5 to 6 business days.”

Something is very wrong here. Marvel, 44% of the opening audience of Guardians of the Galaxy were women! I know! I have seen it three times. And this is not just a problem with Gamora. We had this problem with Black Widow. We encounter this problem with her DC favorite, Wonder Woman. (I found her Wonder Woman t-shirt in a thrift store. And my daughter made the crown and bracers herself because she loves Wonder Woman so much.) I understand the politics of it, but a four-year-old does not.

So Marvel, do you know what my daughter thought after not finding yet another superheroine she loves in stores? Do you know what she said to me with her sad green eyes?

“Maybe superheroes aren’t for girls Mom.”

Superheroes are for girls.  Bonehead studio and merchandising executives on the other hand, need to get a clue.  Many thanks to Jenna Busch for alerting me to this problem.

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