An eight-year-old millionaire YouTuber is facing an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission amid accusations that he pushed unwitting children into buying toys made by his sponsors.
Ryan Kaji is the star of Ryan ToysReview channel, which has 21 million subscribers, and sees him unbox and play with toys which he then reviews.
The child is worth $22million and was last year named YouTube’s highest earner by Forbes magazine.
But the little video blogger has now found himself at the center of a row after a lobbying group said his parents did not make it clear to other children that he was pushing toys that had sponsored him.
Walmart is selling action figures in Ryan’s likeness, with his face on the packaging and other toys under the Ryan’s World brand. Ryan is pictured with his parents, Shion and Loann
The first-grader (pictured), who’s been making YouTube videos for three years, has also become a major influencer in the toy industry
In a complaint filed to the FTC, consumer watchdog Truth In Advertising accused Ryan of not clearly disclosing paid sponsorship from brands such as Walmart.
Ryan’s parents, Shion and Loann Kaji, who run the channel, are named in the papers rather than the eight-year-old.
Bonnie Patten, executive director at Truth in Advertising, told The Verge: ‘An adult might be able to tell … when a kid influencer, like Ryan, is playing with one of his own products.’
‘The intended audience, which are preschoolers, has no idea that they’re being pitched a commercial. The goal is for them to say, “Mom, I want what Ryan has,” she added.
Patten argues that a short caption on a video or an audio disclaimer is not enough for youngsters to understand they are watching paid advertisements.
It is not entirely clear how the channel drove millions in revenue last year, but the Kajis have worked with Chuck E. Cheese, Walmart, Colgate and Nickelodeon.
Walmart, who wants to fill the void left by Toys R Us, has partnered with the YouTuber to make a line of toys called ‘Ryan’s World.’
Meanwhile, Nickelodeon has its own cable TV spin-off show based on his YouTube channel called Ryan’s Mystery Playdate.
His most recent deal is with dental giant Colgate, and they have released toothbrushes, mouthwash and toothpaste with Ryan’s branding on.
Ryan’s mother Loann told Moms.com last month: ‘Ryan loves recording videos, so it’s great to see him have fun with it and see how rapidly the YouTube channel has grown.’
She added, ‘We are very careful when partnering with brands and always take our time to make sure that they truly fit with Ryan and our family … We love to work with brands of which we are already fans, so we were very excited by our recent partnership with Colgate Kids.’
Full time: Ryan’s mother quit her job as high-school chemistry teacher to work full-time on the YouTube channel
Family fun: Ryan’s family often feature in his videos. His mother and father, in particular, have made numerous videos with their son, including vlogs and challenges
Popular: Ryan’s channel Ryan ToysReview has a total of 21 million subscribers
According to his mother, Ryan was once an avid watcher of toy reviews, especially ones that focused on Thomas the Tank Engine, before he asked to start his own channel.
‘One day, he asked me, “How come I’m not on YouTube when all the other kids are?” So we just decided – yeah, we can do that,’ Loann, told TubeFilter.
‘Then, we took him to the store to get his very first toy – I think it was a Lego train set – and it all started from there.’
The YouTube channel, Ryan’s father said, was also a way to share bits of his son’s life with their extended family members, many of whom live outside the US.
One of his most popular videos, ‘HUGE EGGS Surprise Toys Challenge with Inflatable water slide,’ has 1.8 billion views.
The video sees Ryan going down a massive inflatable slide with water at the bottom and trying to find surprise eggs in his back yard.
Ryan’s videos have become so successful that he now even has his own line of toys.
It includes a Giant Mystery Egg, which is filled with different toys including slime, lights, and a limited edition squishy toy.
Ryan told Moms.com: ‘I want to make toys that I can play with all of my friends. I was happy when I was able to create the Giant Mystery Egg with a bunch of my favorite toys and playthings like slime and figures. I just want to make stuff that kids my age like too, so I can’t wait to figure out what that next big thing is.’
Ryan’s father often appears in his son’s clips, which see Ryan discovering and playing with various types of toys, often while making appreciative comments.
His family have since created a second channel called Ryan’s Family Review, which features the family completing different challenges, blogs and a tour of the family’s house.
Progress: in 2017, Ryan placed eighth in Forbe’s top 10 highest-paid YouTubers in the world having made a total of $11 million
YouTube star: The eight-year-old made a staggering $22 million last year alone
Millionaire! YouTube star Ryan of Ryan ToysReview placed first in Forbe’s ranking of last year’s 10 highest-paid YouTubers in the world
Most of his viewers are children between the ages of three and seven, according to his father.
The majority of Ryan’s fans are located in the US, but many also live in the UK and in the Philippines.
Ryan’s mother, a former high school chemistry teacher, has quit her job to work full-time on her son’s channel. Her husband works as a structural engineer.
His younger identical twin sisters Emma and Kate have also previously featured in his videos.
Jake Paul, another colossal YouTuber with more than 19 million subscribers, has similarly come under fire for his videos which are laced with his own merchandise.
His audience is largely made up of school children, however YouTube has defended itself in the past by saying the website is not meant for people aged under 13.
Ryan’s parents often feature in his videos and the complaint names them rather than the eigh-year-old (Ryan with his father Shion)
A typical video shows Ryan whipping up some make-believe food in his toy kitchen
The Google-owned broadcasting site was fined $170 million to settle allegations it collected children’s personal data without their parents’ consent last month.
Google said YouTube would limit data collection on users who watch children’s programming on its main site, even if the user is an adult.
Meanwhile, Google said it would promote YouTube Kids, its children’s version of the site, with a new marketing campaign.
Although this does not address Truth In Advertising’s concerns entirely, Patten said it shows Google was trying to take steps in the right direction.
She said her group’s aims were not to stop influencers from making money, but to prevent the exploitation of children.