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YouTube Kids is ‘a tasteless desert’, say US lawmakers

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A US government committee has described YouTube Kids as a “wasteland of tasteless consumerist content.”

In a letter to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, the US Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee said the platform was full of “inappropriate … highly commercial content.”

Google launched YouTube Kids in 2015 as a safe place for kids to view relevant content.

YouTube said it has worked hard to provide “meaningful content for children.”

In a statement, a YouTube spokesperson said, “Over the past few years, we’ve worked hard to provide children and families with protections and controls that allow them to view age-appropriate content.

“We have made significant investments in the YouTube Kids app to make it safer and to provide more educational and rewarding content for children, based on principles developed with experts and parents.

“Additionally, on YouTube, we do not serve personalized ads alongside ‘designed for kids’ content and apply additional protections to ensure that we recommend content appropriate for the age of children and families.”

‘Hidden Marketing’

In 2019, Google agreed to pay $ 170 million (£ 124 million) as part of a deal with the Federal Trade Commission for the collection and sale of children’s data without parental consent. YouTube is committed to protecting children’s privacy and removing personalized ads.

According to the letter, some videos appeared to “smuggle hidden marketing and advertising with product placements by children’s influencers.”

The letter claimed that a research team, which it did not name, found that only about 4% of the videos had high educational value. Much of the rest was shoddy content, like unboxing toys and videos of people playing video games.

He also said a mother brought back a video with advice on how to kill herself. After the video was posted, the letter alleges that YouTube did not remove it for eight months.

The letter asked YouTube to provide a plethora of documents, including:

  • information on the top 200 channels and the average time children spend watching them

  • a detailed explanation of how paid ads are selected to serve to children

  • an explanation of how the recommendation algorithm determines which videos to promote to children

  • number of videos deleted because they were inappropriate from 2016 to 2020

  • number of channels or creators blocked during the same period

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