A House subcommittee is investigating YouTube Kids, saying the Google-owned video service feeds kids inappropriate material in “a wasteland of bland and consumerist content” so it can show them ads.
The investigation comes despite Google agreeing to pay $ 170 million in 2019 to resolve allegations that YouTube collected personal data about children without the consent of their parents.
In a letter sent Tuesday For YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, the US House of Representatives’ Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy said YouTube does not do enough to protect children from material that could harm them. Instead, it relies on artificial intelligence and creators’ self-regulation to decide which videos will be posted on the platform, according to a letter from committee chairman, Illinois Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi.
And despite the changes in the wake of the 2019 deal, the letter notes, YouTube Kids still shows ads to children. But instead of relying on kids’ online activity, it now focuses on the videos they are watching.
YouTube said it has sought to provide children and families with protections and controls that allow them to view age-appropriate content. He also emphasized that the 2019 deal was made on the regular YouTube platform, not the children’s version.
“We have made significant investments in the YouTube Kids app to make it safer and provide more educational and enriching content for children, based on principles developed with experts and parents,” the company said.
The Congressional investigation comes a year after the pandemic has closed schools and left working-from-home parents increasingly dependent on services like YouTube to keep kids busy. This has led to rethinking the rules of “screen time” and feeling guilty about the amount of time children spend in front of screens, and some experts recommend that parents focus on quality, not quantity.
But lawmakers say YouTube Kids is anything but quality.
“YouTube Kids takes no time or effort to determine the suitability of content before it is available for children to view,” the letter says. “YouTube Kids allows content creators to self-regulate. YouTube only asks them to consider factors including the subject of the video, whether the video has an emphasis on characters, themes, toys or children’s games, and more. “
Children under the age of 13 are protected by a 1998 federal law that requires parental consent before companies can collect and share your personal information.
Under the 2019 agreement, Google agreed to work with video creators to tag material aimed at children. It said it would limit data collection when users watch those videos, regardless of their age.
But lawmakers say that even after the deal, YouTube Kids, which launched in 2015, continued to exploit loopholes and advertise to children. While it doesn’t target viewers’ interests like YouTube’s main service does, it does track information about what kids are watching to recommend videos. It also collects personally identifiable information from the device.
There are also other misleading ways that ads reach children. A “high volume” of children’s videos, the letter says, smuggles in hidden marketing and advertising with product placement by “influential kids,” who are often themselves.
“YouTube does not appear to be trying to prevent such problematic marketing,” the letter says. House’s research team found that only 4% of the videos they watched had “high educational value” and offered developmentally appropriate material.
The children’s app has helped make YouTube an increasingly attractive medium for ad sales that generate most of the revenue for Google and its parent company, Alphabet, which is based in Mountain View, California.
YouTube generated nearly $ 20 billion in ad revenue last year, more than double its total just three years ago. The video site now accounts for about 13% of Google’s total ad sales, up from just over 8% in 2017.
The House subcommittee recommends that YouTube completely disable ads for children under 7 years of age. It also asks that you give parents the ability to disable the “autoplay” feature, which is currently not possible (although parents can set a timer to limit their children’s video viewing).
Lawmakers are asking YouTube to provide them with information on the best YouTube Kids videos, channels and income information, as well as the average time spent and number of videos viewed, per user, among other information.
AP technology writer Michael Liedtke contributed to this story.