Millionaire seven-year-old Ryan Kaji and his parents are facing an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission amid accusations that he pushed unwitting children into buying toys made by his sponsors.
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 $22 million 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 controversy after a lobbying group said his parents did not make it clear to other children that he was pushing toys that had sponsored him.
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.
They say that 90 percent of the family’s videos include a paid-for product but that they do not always label them as such.
Ryan’s parents, Shion and Loann Guan, who run the channel, are named in the papers.
WATCH: Ryan ToysReview Channel:
Kaji is a name the family uses to protect their privacy online.
Neither of Ryan’s parents, Shion Kaji and Loan Kaji, have a social media presence and it is unclear what they did for work before launching their YouTube channel.
In 2017, they registered the name Remka Inc as the company which Ryan ToysReviews sits under.
The family is registered to several properties including a six-bedroom property in Cypress, Texas, worth an estimated $995,000.
Hosted by Ryan Kaji, and billed as a channel dedicated to “toy reviews for kids by a kid,” Ryan ToysReview has built an audience of 21 million subscribers since it started in 2015.
In video after video, the host tries out new toys, usually with enthusiasm.
The channel has racked up more than 30 billion views.
Nearly 90 percent of the Ryan ToysReview videos have included at least one paid product recommendation aimed at preschoolers, a group too young to distinguish between a commercial and a review, Truth in Advertising argued in its complaint.
The channel’s sponsors have included Walmart, Hasbro, Netflix, Chuck E. Cheese and Nickelodeon, according to Truth in Advertising.
Many children do not recognize advertising until they are 8 or 9 years old, said Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
Some videos on YouTube channels like Ryan ToysReview have noted sponsored content in small type that appears briefly, he said, or through a voice-over thank-you to the retailer or manufacturer that provided products.
“A 5-year-old isn’t going to understand that Ryan’s talking about the toys because Target is paying him to talk about the toys,” Golin said. “There may be some disclosure, but disclosure isn’t meaningful to a child that young.”
Walmart 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.
The family said they follow advertising rules strictly.
In a statement, Shion Kaji said: “The well-being of our viewers is always the top priority for us, and we strictly follow all platforms’ terms of service and all existing laws and regulations, including advertising disclosure requirements.
“As the streaming space continues to quickly grow and evolve,” Kaji continued, “we support efforts by lawmakers, industry representatives and regulators such as the F.T.C. to continuously evaluate and update existing guidelines and lay new ground rules to protect both viewers and creators.”
Last month, several senators asked the commission to investigate Ryan ToysReview, which they said had posted two commercials for the fast-food chain Carl’s Jr. without disclosing that they were ads.