Kids May Be Exposed to Adult Content Via YouTube Kids If They Can Solve Basic Math
YouTube now has a dedicated website for kid-friendly content, YouTubeKids.com, with a parental lock so simple, well, a kid could solve it.
When you launch the website, a big, red screen advises kids to go get a parent to answer a security question that unlocks the portal. Once unlocked, parents can choose between three categories of appropriate video content screened by YouTube’s algorithms — for preschoolers (for children below the age of 4), for a “younger” group for ages 5 to 7, and for an “older” group for kids over 7. The parent, then, also gets the option to turn the search function off — limiting the child to only videos shown by YouTube Kids’ algorithms for that age.
Given the lack of conviction YouTube Kids has in its own filtering mechanism — the disclaimer on the website puts the onus of censorship on parents by saying that “not all videos have been manually reviewed” — you’d think the website would ask for a four-digit PIN code, but no — the security question is a simple math problem instead. Think: 8 + 3 = __________.
In actuality, even if the security question was more nuanced, once the parent logged onto the platform, a kid could potentially be exposed to videos not suitable for their age group, including adult content, that might have slipped through the YouTube bot’s cracks: The video-streaming platform has provided no clarity on how the filtering algorithm for YouTube Kids works, and whether — if at all — it is any different from the logic that underlies the main search algorithm of YouTube.
In fact, in the disclaimer that pops up after choosing the ‘Older’ category in Youtube Kids says: “This setting tries to exclude mature content, but since we can’t manually review all content, and no automated system is perfect, we may miss some videos. This means that in this setting, there is a chance that your child may run into more mature videos that could include nudity, offensive language and violence.”
To undo or change all or any of these settings also, all a curious child has to do is click on Settings and answer another easy math question like 7×2 — with the help of Google, a calculator or just their mind.
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This new website (previously only an app) purports to offer age-appropriate content to kids, as well as allows parents to track what their child is watching. It comes as a response to criticism the video-sharing platform has faced over the presence of mature content and safety risks to minors’ personal information. In fact, an announcement of a multi-million dollar Federal Trade Commission (FTC) penalty paid by the company for its violations of U.S. children’s privacy laws is imminent — which could also explain the hushed way in which the YouTube Kids website was launched (not on the platform’s official blog).
Other changes reportedly in the making, pending the official announcement of the FTC settlement, include some sort of an age-gate on the main website, which will redirect children under the age of 13 to a (presumably algorithmically) kid-safe YouTube website where children’s personal information isn’t collected without their guardians’ consent.
In 2017, YouTube was criticized heavily for having disturbing videos specifically targeted at kids by using child-relevant keywords. For example, videos of the cartoon character Peppa Pig drinking bleach or having her teeth violently yanked out would show up in search results when children sought out Peppa Pig videos. YouTube leaned on a band-aid solution then: it simply age-restricted the reported videos, that too, after the press made a brouhaha about it.
The mathematical parental lock on YouTubeKids.com is another band-aid solution. It’s so obviously pointless as a lock to keep increasingly technologically adept children from accessing adult content that it almost feels like someone is really benefitting from increased views to monetized videos (it’s Google) — even at the sake of children’s safety and privacy.