YouTube Draws Chil­dren and Risks

L'Opinion - - The Wall Street Journal - Dou­glas MacMillan

A new sur­vey shows YouTube is hu­ge­ly po­pu­lar among fa­mi­lies with young chil­dren. That could be a pro­blem for YouTube.

Amid concern from chil­dren’s ad­vo­ca­cy groups that the Google-ow­ned vi­deo web­site is pro­fi­ting from ad­ver­ti­se­ments tar­ge­ted at mi­nors, the sur­vey from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter shows that more than four out of five pa­rents with chil­dren 11 and youn­ger have gi­ven them per­mis­sion to watch a YouTube vi­deo. More than one-third of those pa­rents let their chil­dren watch vi­deos on the site re­gu­lar­ly, ac­cor­ding to the re­sults of the sur­vey pu­bli­shed Wed­nes­day.

The sur­vey al­so sho­wed that the ma­jo­ri­ty of pa­rents whose chil­dren watch YouTube say their chil­dren have seen dis­tur­bing content on the site.

The fin­dings could lend sup­port to a group of consu­mer­rights and chil­dren’s pri­va­cy ad­vo­cates that fi­led a com­plaint with the Fe­de­ral Trade Com­mis­sion in April, ac­cu­sing Google of kno­win­gly col­lec­ting da­ta from un­de­rage YouTube vie­wers for the pur­pose of tar­ge­ting ads. The Chil­dren’s On­line Pri­va­cy Pro­tec­tion Act of 1998 makes it ille­gal for bu­si­nesses to col­lect in­for­ma­tion from mi­nors un­der 13 wi­thout get­ting ex­pli­cit consent from their pa­rents. In res­ponse to the com­plaint, Google has said it doesn’t al­low anyone un­der 13 to create an ac­count on YouTube, and when it finds chil­dren who have vio­la­ted that po­li­cy it kicks them off the site. The com­pa­ny al­so of­fers YouTube Kids, a child­friend­ly vi­deo app that doesn’t col­lect da­ta on mi­nors.

“Pro­tec­ting kids and fa­mi­lies has al­ways been a top prio­ri­ty for us,” a YouTube spo­kes­wo­man said in a writ­ten sta­te­ment. “Be­cause YouTube is not for chil­dren, we’ve in­ves­ted si­gni­fi­cant­ly in the crea­tion of the YouTube Kids app to of­fer an al­ter­na­tive spe­ci­fi­cal­ly de­si­gned for chil­dren.”

Pew’s sur­vey ques­tions fo­cu­sed on pa­rents who kno­win­gly give their chil­dren per­mis­sion to watch YouTube. The re­sear­cher didn’t spe­ci­fi­cal­ly ask about the YouTube Kids app. The re­sults were ba­sed on a na­tio­nal­ly re­pre­sen­ta­tive sur­vey of more than 4,500 U.S. adults, Pew said.

Even if mi­nors are log­ging in­to the app with the know­ledge of their pa­rents, YouTube is brea­king the law by col­lec­ting da­ta such as the geo­lo­ca­tion of those users, said Josh Go­lin, exe­cu­tive di­rec­tor of the Cam­pai­gn for a Com­mer­cial Free Child­hood, one of the groups that fi­led the FTC com­plaint.

In a let­ter to Google in Sep­tem­ber, Reps. Da­vid Ci­cil­line (D.-R.I.) and Jeff For­ten­ber­ry (R.-Neb.) pres­sed the com­pa­ny to share in­for­ma­tion about how ma­ny chil­dren are wat­ching YouTube. Google wrote back last month, saying it doesn’t have age in­for­ma­tion in­di­ca­ting any YouTube users are un­der 13.

“They are ac­ting as if eve­ryone who used YouTube is over 13, so [The Chil­dren’s On­line Pri­va­cy Pro­tec­tion Act] doesn’t ap­ply,” Mr. Ci­cil­line said in an in­ter­view. “It just de­fies rea­li­ty the no­tion that kids don’t use it.”

A spo­kes­wo­man for the FTC confir­med that the agen­cy re­cei­ved the YouTube com­plaint, but de­cli­ned to say whe­ther it was re­vie­wing the mat­ter.

Po­pu­lar chil­dren’s content on YouTube in­cludes car­toons and toy “un­boxing” vi­deos, and clips that are di­rec­ted to­ward chil­dren are ty­pi­cal­ly grou­ped to­ge­ther un­der the Pa­ren­ting and Fa­mi­ly sec­tion of the site. Ho­we­ver, a uni­verse of more ma­ture content is one click away. Among pa­rents who let their young ones watch YouTube, 61 % said their child has en­coun­te­red vi­deos that were un­sui­table for chil­dren, Pew said.

For adults, YouTube is in­crea­sin­gly used for more than just en­ter­tain­ment. Pew found that about one in five YouTube users, or about 13 % of the to­tal po­pu­la­tion of U.S. adults, re­ly on the site to un­ders­tand news and cur­rent events.

The gro­wing pre­va­lence of news content on YouTube has put pres­sure on the com­pa­ny to fil­ter out false in­for­ma­tion and ha­te­ful content. More than two­thirds of users say they en­coun­ter vi­deos that “seem ob­vious­ly false or un­true,” while 60 % say they have seen vi­deos of “people en­ga­ged in dan­ge­rous or trou­bling be­ha­vior.”

In its ana­ly­sis of all YouTube users, the re­sear­chers found 81 % said they at least oc­ca­sio­nal­ly wat­ched the vi­deos the site re­com­mends af­ter they fi­nish wat­ching the first vi­deo—a trend that sug­gests the po­wer of the YouTube al­go­rithm.

The re­sear­chers al­so found a sur­pri­sing trend with this al­go­rithm. Ac­cor­ding to Pew, each vi­deo YouTube re­com­mends tends to be slight­ly lon­ger in length than the last vi­deo a user wat­ched. The ave­rage vi­deo wat­ched on YouTube is 9 mi­nutes, 31 se­conds, while the se­cond vi­deo users watch tends to be 12 mi­nutes, 18 se­conds, and gets lon­ger af­ter that.


Sen. Dean Hel­ler (R-Nev), left, and Rep. Ja­cky Ro­sen (D-Nev) be­fore a U.S. Se­nate de­bate, on Oc­tobre 19.

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