So there’s yet another controversy surrounding YouTube and videos that include young children — this time concerns about YouTube suggesting such videos to “presumed” pedophiles.
We can argue about what YouTube should or should not be recommending to any given user. There are some calls for YT to not recommend such videos when it detects them (an imperfect process) — though I’m not convinced that this would really make much difference so long as the videos themselves are public.
But here’s a more fundamental question:
Why the hell are parents uploading videos of young children publicly to YouTube in the first place?
This is of course a subset of a more general issue — parents who apparently can’t resist posting all manner of photos and other personal information about their children in public online forums, much of which is going to be at the very least intensely embarrassing to those children when they’re older. And the Internet rarely ever forgets anything that was ever public (the protestations of EU politicians and regulators notwithstanding).
There are really only two major possibilities concerning such video uploads. Either the parents don’t care about these issues, or they don’t understand them. Or perhaps both.
Various apps and web pages exist that will automatically display YT videos that have few or no current views from around the world. There’s an endless stream of these. Thousands. Millions? Typically these seem as if they have been automatically uploaded by various camera and video apps, possibly without any specific intentions for the uploading to occur. Many of these involve schools and children.
So a possible answer to my question above may be that many YT users — including parents of young children — are either not fully aware of what they are uploading, or do not realize that the uploads are public and are subject to being suggested to strangers or found by searching.
This leads us to another question. YT channel owners already have the ability to set their channel default privacy settings and the privacy settings for each individual video.
Currently those YT defaults are initially set to public.
Should YT’s defaults be private rather than public?
Looking at it from a user trust and safety standpoint, we may be approaching such a necessity, especially given the pressure for increased regulatory oversight from politicians and governments, which in my opinion is best avoided if at all possible.
These questions and their ramifications are complex to say the least.
Clearly, default channel and videos privacy would be the safest approach, ensuing that videos would typically only be shared to specific other users deemed suitable by the channel owner.
All of the public sharing capabilities of YT would still be present, but would require the owner to make specific decisions about the channel default and/or individual video settings. If a channel owner wanted to make some or all of their videos public — either to date or also going forward, that would be their choice. Full channel and individual videos privacy would only be the original defaults, purely as a safety measure.
Finer-grained settings might also be possible, not only including existing options like “unlisted” videos, but also specific options to control the visibility of videos and channels in search and suggestions.
Some of the complexities of such an approach are obvious. More controls means the potential for more user confusion. Fewer videos in search and suggestions limits visibility and could impact YT revenue streams to both Google and channel owners in complex ways that may be difficult to predict with significant accuracy.
But in the end, the last question here seems to be a relatively simple one. Should any YouTube uploaders ever have their videos publicly available for viewing, search, or suggestions if that was not actually their specific and informed intent?
I believe that the answer to that question is no.
Be seeing you.