Reports are circulating that Google plans to implement some important new protections for their YouTube Kids offering, in particular providing a means for parents to ensure that their children only see videos that have been human-curated and/or are from appropriately trusted YouTube channels.
The goal would be to avoid children being exposed to the kinds of sick garbage that currently still manages to seep into YouTube Kids recommendation engine suggested videos.
I have been calling for exactly this kind of approach for YouTube Kids, and I applaud such efforts by the YouTube team.
However, if some details of these reports are accurate, there are a couple of important provisos that I must mention.
First, the “curated/trusted” YouTube Kids video mode will supposedly be an opt-in feature — needing to be explicitly enabled (e.g., by parents).
By default, children would reportedly continue to see the algorithmic recommendations complete with the creepy contamination.
Since we’re dealing with kids viewing videos, not adults, this new human-curated mode should absolutely be the default, which could optionally be disabled by parents if they really wanted their children to see the full algorithmic flow.
The calculus when determining appropriate defaults is entirely different for children, and depending on busy parents to pay attention to these kinds of settings is problematic at best, so this is a situation where the most ethical and responsible action on Google’s part would be for the “safest” settings to prevail as defaults.
Secondly, it’s crucial in the long run that the same YouTube Kids features and content options are ultimately available not only as mobile apps but on ordinary browser platforms as well. Most children don’t limit their video viewing only to phones!
All that said, if Google is indeed moving ahead toward human-curated and approved YouTube Kids video suggestions, this is a notably positive step, and would be an important acknowledgment by Google that in some cases, algorithms alone are insufficient to adequately deal with our complex online content ecosystems.