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Google sued in Brazil for advertising targeting children on YouTube

Brazil’s Federal Prosecution Service (MPF) filed on Tuesday a lawsuit against Google Brasil, the tech giant’s local subsidiary, for alleged irregularities related to advertising to children on YouTube.

The complaint stems from a probe launched in April by Fernando Martins, an MPF prosecutor in Minas Gerais state, after UOL approached the MPF while working on a report about the targeting children in advertising and marketing on YouTube. The probe focused on “Bel Para Meninas” (“Bel for Girls”), which bills itself as Brazil’s biggest children’s channel on YouTube.

Google sued in Brazil for advertising to children on YouTube
The “Bel Para Meninas” homepage

“Bel Para Meninas” is presented by Isabel Peres Magdalena, an 8-year-old girl, and her mother, Francinete Peres. The videos often include pitches for toys, packaged foods and other products aimed at children.  The channel currently has more than 2.4 million subscribers and was highlighted in January by Think with Google as a success case.

The complaint noted that many videos posted on YouTube feature children under 12 years of age. “When they reach a large number of views, the young YouTubers become minor celebrities,” said the MPF. “Due to this exposure, they eventually attract the market’s attention and become sales promoters, starring in ads aimed at children.”

The complaint is based on legal provisions included in the Brazilian Federal Constitution, the Brazilian Consumer Defense Code and the Children and Teenagers Statute, and a resolution passed in 2014 by the National Council of the Rights of the Child and the Adolescent. Law.gov has more on the resolution:

Under the new Resolution, it is considered abusive to engage in the practice of targeting children in advertising and marketing communications with the intention of persuading the children to consume any product or service using, among other means, childish language, special effects, and excessive colors; soundtracks with children’s songs, including those ones sung by children; representations of children; images of people or celebrities who appeal to children; characters or hosts of children programs; cartoons or animation; dolls or similar products; promotions with distribution of prizes or gifts or collectibles that appeal to children; and promotional competitions or games that appeal to children.

The complaint demands that Google add a notice on YouTube website or on individual videos stating that marketing and advertising of products or services aimed at children or featuring children is illegal. It also asks Google to provide a tool that would allow users to report videos featuring inappropriate advertising to children.

In a note to Brazilian media outlets, Google Brasil said it was not notified of the lawsuit, and that YouTube is an open platform for adults. “Children should use it in a family context and monitored by a responsible adult,” read the note. Google Brasil added that users must observe YouTube’s terms of service as well as Brazilian law, and that users can already flag videos and advertising on YouTube to be reviewed and potentially removed by the company.