In a two-minute video sent to the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday, consumer advocacy groups revealed flaws in a YouTube app designed to protect preschool children from inappropriate content. Using the app’s search function, the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy uncovered clips featuring explicit language and references to sex, drug use, and dangerous activities such as tasting battery acid. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, was among the groups making the complaint to the FTC.

Available for free download since February, YouTube Kids offers Android and iPhone users a hub for popular children’s programming from Sesame Street andThomas and Friends, plus  kid-friendly content created by teachers and entertainers. Google, the owner of YouTube and the creator of the app, planned to use automated analysis, manual reviews, and consumer feedback to screen YouTube’s offerings.

But the search engine—which can be activated with voice commands—allows some unsuitable content to slip through the filters, even though adult-themed search terms are off-limits. Some of the sexual references, for example, were inserted by YouTube users into the audio that accompanied cartoon clips.

“YouTube handles tremendous breadth, depth and scale of content—around 300 hours of video uploaded every minute—so while we work hard to get it right, it’s nearly impossible to have 100% accuracy,” states the YouTube Kids web page.

As an added precaution, YouTube’s owner Google recommends that parents disable the search function.

In addition to the programming content, the advocacy groups complained about the advertising on the app. In one instance, they were able to access a Budweiser spot, which clearly conflicts with YouTube’s claims to show only family-friendly ads.  

—Chris Raymond

Copyright © 2005-2015 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.