If I told you kids don’t like to be restricted or fed substandard entertainment, would you be surprised? The answer is obviously no, but somehow Google and tech media seem to be taken aback by kids’ preference of the main YouTube app over the walled-garden of YouTube Kids. Bloomberg’s Mark Bergen and Lucas Shaw report:
In late May, the advocacy group Common Sense Media held a summit on “digital well-being.” Attendees gathered inside the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, to debate the long-term effects of apps, services and electronic devices once hailed as revolutionary. The final panel was devoted to content deemed “NSFK,” or “not safe for kids.”
What was supposed to be a roundtable discussion functioned more like a public drubbing of YouTube. The video site, owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, is in the news every week for the inane, upsetting or harmful videos involving children. A decade ago, fretful parents worried about video games and slasher films—but today, YouTube incites greater fear. “Now parents say, ‘Bring me the violent movie,’” Jill Murphy, editor-in-chief of Common Sense, said on stage. “It’s better than a Google search box.”
Alicia Blum-Ross, YouTube’s policy chief for kids and family, tried to convince the room that her company was getting quality content to kids. It has spent the past year throwing resources at child safety. YouTube has recruited staff and set up an outside advisory council. Last fall, the company hired Blum-Ross, an anthropologist, and speaking on the panel, she ticked off recent product upgrades – an option for screened kids’ videos only, more parental controls, smarter software. “We’ve actually made a lot of strides,” she said. In the first quarter of 2019, the company removed more than 800,000 videos for violations of its child safety policy.
Blum-Ross then touted YouTube’s supposed panacea: YouTube Kids. The app, created four years ago, filters videos from the main site specifically for children under thirteen, who are protected by federal law from forms of digital data collection. The app has faced criticism – that it’s too addictive, lowbrow and unedited — but YouTube Kids is, relatively speaking, a haven from the dangers of the open web and YouTube.com. “We strongly encourage parents that the general site is not made for kids,” Blum-Ross said.
What Blum-Ross didn’t mention, however, is that not many kids use YouTube Kids, and those who do don’t stick around. Several of the most popular channels on the main site, which has more than 2 billion monthly users, specialize in programming designed for young kids, but that doesn’t mean they are free of advertising or screened for safety. One, Cocomelon, a channel of nursery rhymes, has more than 50 million subscribers. That’s double the weekly audience for all of YouTube Kids, which is used by more than 20 million people a week, according to a company spokesperson. (Much of the audience for a channel like Cocomelon could be parents trying to keep up with popular rhymes, a spokesperson said.)
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