Google’s YouTube for Kids service is getting some attention recently from regulators and policymakers in Washington, DC. The FTC and now Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) are asking questions about how content is selected for YouTube for Kids and how Google helps young viewers understand the difference between content and advertising. It has been alleged that some content is not appropriate for children and that some advertising in or around the content may not be labeled clearly enough for children and their parents.
While Google has a history of innovation, upending old business models and creating new opportunities and experiences via the internet, their “developer mentality” of breaking things to create even better new things may not work the same when it comes to products targeted to kids.
Parents are coming to grips with the fact that their kids have unprecedented access to digital content and experiences. The number of devices and kids’ ability to use them grows exponentially every year. I cannot wait to see where a generation of digitally native kids takes the internet as we know it today. Yet, while there are exciting opportunities to be realized, parents struggle with providing freedom to explore while also setting appropriate limits. At every point they need trusted partners to pave safe paths and to help them protect their children.
A company like Google has not historically had the same relationship with its customers as content creators. Those in the business of creating content, particularly premium publishers, know that their business relies on developing loyal audiences. For some content brands, these relationships have been built with many generations of families. Others are forging new relationships with content consumers.
For content companies, digital has opened up a channel not just to deliver amazing new content experiences, it offers an opportunity to develop richer customer knowledge and offer deeper and more engaging content experiences. As much as ever, these relationships are built on trust. And frankly, when it comes to content for kids, these trust-based relationships with brands are incredibly valuable.
Google needs to ensure that only kid-appropriate content is flagged for inclusion in YouTube for Kids and they must be careful to clearly label advertising to ensure that it is equally appropriate for these audiences. Allowing parents to flag inappropriate content or advertising doesn’t seem to be enough for a product that is directed at kids. To be sure, the old rules for kids programming on TV may not be quite right for the Internet, so it is incumbent upon Google to find ways to ease parents’ concerns and to educate and protect young audiences. That’s the role that trusted brands have held for decades.