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No kid-ing: YouTube under fire for app

YouTube is taking heat for its new kids' app.

A coalition of consumer and children's advocacy groups claims the Google-owned (GOOGL) online video site’s app, YouTube Kids, engages in unfair and deceptive marketing practices. In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, the coalition argues YouTube’s product-based programming violates protections against advertising aimed at kids:

“…the company appears to have ignored not only the scientific research on children’s developmental limitations, but also the well-established system of advertising safeguards that has been in place on both broadcast and cable television for decades.”

It is asking for the Commission to investigate.

Google is firing back. In response to a request from Yahoo Finance, a YouTube spokesperson replies:

"We worked with numerous partners and child advocacy groups when developing YouTube Kids. While we are always open to feedback on ways to improve the app, we were not contacted directly by the signers of this letter and strongly disagree with their contentions, including the suggestion that no free, ad-supported experience for kids will ever be acceptable.  We disagree and think that great content shouldn’t be reserved for only those families who can afford it.”

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Yahoo Finance’s Aaron Task thinks the news that Google is pushing advertising is akin to the reaction of Captain Renault in the classic film, “Casablanca,” who acts shocked that there’s gambling at Rick’s.

“Are we surprised Google is serving up ads?” he asks. “This is what Google does, whether it’s search, whether it’s YouTube-- they are an ad platform, the likes of which the world has never seen.”

Art Hogan, Managing Director at Wunderlich in Boston, feels the same way.

“To the extent that Google is finding another way to promote advertising, that should come to nobody as a shock,” he adds. “They do a great job of it.”

Task adds it’s really up to parents to make sure their children aren’t being bombarded by ads.

“As a parent of young children, I have to be responsible for what my kids consume-- whether it's what they put in their mouths or what they’re watching,” he says. “So I have to say some of the onus is on the parents to make sure if your kid is using this app that they’re not watching 10 minutes of commercials under the guise of it being programming.”

Hogan agrees that we can’t expect kids to be the ones responsible for avoiding the wrong programming.

“You’re going to run into bad content almost everywhere,”he argues. “You can watch normal cable TV after 6 o’clock at night and see things you don’t want your kids watching. So I think that’s the key point here-- parental responsibility.”

Yahoo Finance’s Jen Rogers notes that when used right, the YouTube Kids app can actually be useful.

“I played around with the app a little bit,” she says. “I learned how to make a Taylor Swift costume with Play-Doh (HAS).”