Friday, April 10, 2015

Does "don't be evil" apply to content marketing?

A consumer group just asked the FTC to investigate the YouTube Kids app. Their claim is fairly straightforward - Google came out with the app as a "safer" place for kids. Parents and kids searching for episodes of Barney or clips of Disney songs could all too easily stumble on disturbingly mature content. The consumer group claims, however, that the app is actually stuffed with ads and product placements, and that this medium should be subject to the same restrictions as TV with respect to marketing to children.

On one hand, the consumer group has an easy case; why should content produced for consumption online not have the same protections for kids as content produced for TV? On the other hand, regulating internet content itself would be a massive precedent for a legal and regulatory system that has shied away from it. The middle ground that the FTC could carve out is that the app itself is a concrete product that, while it uses the internet, is not a public place like a website; rather, the youtube kids app is a product specifically aimed at children, and therefore it could be regulated differently than youtube itself.

In the next few decades, we will see a number of intriguing legal and regulatory questions like this, and the rulings all put together will have a significant impact on what kind of internet we have.

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