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Unboxing videos constitute “abusive advertising practices”, lawsuit alleges

Published on: March 26th, 2019

Brazilian lawsuit filed against Google raises questions about whether toy unboxing videos are manipulating kids.

The lawsuit has also led people to ask whether similar suits could eventually be filed in the US, citing laws that prohibit aggressive marketing to children.

The lawsuit, filed in January by the public prosecutor’s office in São Paulo, Brazil, accuses YouTube of “engaging in abusive advertising practices toward children”. The suit hinges on prosecuters’ assertion that most videos in the popular genre, even if they’re not marked as ads, are still advertisements. In Brazil, it’s completely illegal to market anything to kids under 12.

Six YouTube creators, and 105 of their videos, were named in the Brazilian lawsuit: Julia Silva (4.4m subscribers), Gabriella Saraivah (3.6m), Felipe Calixto (2m), Manoela Antelo (1.6m), Marina Bombonato(1m), and Vida de Amy (527,000). Prosecutors allege the YouTubers made unboxing videos aimed at kids that count as marketing.

The lawsuit is due to be heard by the São Paulo Court of Justice; if Google loses the case, it’s unlikely to affect how toy unboxing creators operate in the US. But the lawsuit does open up a larger question that could eventually affect global YouTubers – do lengthy, sponsored toy unboxing videos violate laws protecting kids from too much advertising?

If the answer is deemed to be yes, it’s possible a huge number of videos could be in violation of one of the US laws protecting kids from too much marketing: the Children’s Television Act (CTA). Passed in 1990, the CTA limits the amount of advertising overall that can be included in children’s programming. Current limits are 10.5 minutes of advertising for every hour of programming on weekends, and 12 minutes of advertising per hour on weekdays.

Additionally, if toy unboxings are judged to be ads, then some videos could also be found in violation of Federal Trade Commission rules that require influencers to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose when videos are ads. Many creators do properly disclose when their unboxing videos are ads, but others don’t.

The CTA hasn’t yet been enforced on any YouTube videos, but this isn’t the first time the law has recently come up in connection with YouTube. In September, investigative channel Nerd City theorised that  YouTuber Jake Paul violates the CTA by including an ‘excessive amount’ of advertising in videos aimed at kids. In one example, a 13 minute and 57 second video featured 23 separate ad reads geared towards children that make up nearly seven minutes of the video’s runtime.

No public action has been taken against Paul to date; however, it’s likely the Brazilian lawsuit will intensify scrutiny regarding YouTube unboxing videos.

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