Data Mining, Pedophiles & Demonetization, Oh My! YouTube and Children’s Privacy

YouTube, a video sharing site took, the Internet by storm with its unique platform. Little did anyone know that the site would face many issues in its future. Troubles and controversies have plagued the site in recent years. From the infamous “Adpocalypes” to the spread of Nazi propaganda, YouTube seems like it will never catch a break. It doesn’t help that recently the company was taken to court over its issues with children’s privacy.

Google and YouTube were fined $170 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, when the Federal Trade Commission of New York determined that site violated the act by collecting children’s information and using it to sell targeted ads towards children. The New York Attorney General, Letitia James, stated, “Google and YouTube knowingly and illegally monitored, tracked, and served targeted ads to young children just to keep advertising dollars rolling in. These companies put children at risk and abused their power, which is why we are imposing major reforms to their practices and making them pay one of the largest settlements for a privacy matter in U.S. history.” Some believe that YouTube will not change much when it comes to advertising, but they appear to be making some changes.

In order to address the issue of their ads targeting childres, YouTube has changed its algorithm for collecting data to prevent children’s data from being collected. YouTube is also making changes specifically on children’s content channels by removing comments and notifications.

Protecting children from targeted ads is not the only issue that YouTube must deal with when it comes to children’s privacy. Another big and frightening problem would be the child predators that lurk in the comment sections of children’s videos.

Access to the internet is easier than ever for children. Through this, there are many children and family channels on YouTube. While these channels remain on the more innocent side, YouTube’s algorithm can turn these videos into a predator’s paradise. The recommendation algorithm seems to be muddied when it comes to children’s content. A researcher at Harvard, Jonas Kaiser, found that one does not have to search for children’s content to be recommended children’s content. One could find themselves looking at semi-erotic videos of women, followed by recommended videos of children in limited clothing or in vulnerable positions. Predators having access to this content have led these videos’ comment sections to be a cesspool of sexually explicit messages.

The grotesque messages in comment sections has lead YouTube to remove commenting from children’s videos. YouTube has also been reworking their recommendation algorithm, to block this pathway for predators.

While targeted ads and online predators are issues that should be taken care of, YouTube’s responses to these issues has not been well-received by some YouTubers. There are many content creators that have YouTube as their full-time job. The changes that YouTube has made in regard to children’s content could possibly be detrimental to these creators that rely on it as their only source of revenue. Melissa Hunter, the CEO of Family Video Network, an agency that works with children and family content creators stated, “People who I deal with at YouTube feel horrible that the creators are the ones who are going to be hurt by this.” Removing ads, comments, and notifications, makes creators lose a lot of money within the first 24 hours of an upload. This window of time is when the most interaction occurs with videos, so losing items that help boosts a video’s viewing count reduces the amount of revenue it will generate.         

Some YouTubers are wondering if they will be hit with these stipulations, even if their channel is not directly geared towards children. KreekCraft, a gaming channel on YouTube is one of the many that are concerned about the future of their channels. He stated, “It’s kind of like they’re killing video game content, the top three games on YouTube right now are Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox, which are generally non-violent and child-centric games, especially Roblox. Now, we can’t make videos on more mature video games because they’ll get demonetized, but if we make videos on child-friendly games, they’re also now going to get demonetized. What do we do?” Instead of worrying over possible demonetization, some creators are posting their content on different sites, and gamers are moving to Twitch, a streaming site that is popular in video game streams.

So, YouTube is in between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they have to comply with the law and protect children, and on the other, they need to appease their creators. Right now, YouTube is focused on saving themselves and the creators are taking the brunt of the force. However, YouTube can find a way to appease both sides.

What can YouTube do? For starters, they can keep commenting and notifications on creator’s videos, these items are not advertisements, and help creators earn revenue. It’s not as though YouTube would be breaking the law by keeping commenting and notifications on these videos. Now, as stated earlier, some comment sections are rampant in sexually explicit messages. Instead of removing entire comment sections, YouTube should improve the systems that delete inappropriate comments that already exist. Instead of relying on a program to make decisions, they could have real life individuals determine what is inappropriate.

YouTube has come a long way from its beginnings and will continue to push boundaries in the future. As a company that relies on its community to create content, there will always be mishaps of some sort. YouTube is working to improve itself, and hopefully, they’ll keep their word on it.

-Jasmine Aquino

5 thoughts on “Data Mining, Pedophiles & Demonetization, Oh My! YouTube and Children’s Privacy

  1. I can’t believe that people are so disturbed that they would comment disgusting things on a child’s YouTube video. Seriously, who the hell does that?

  2. I am soo intrigued by this topic. I babysit for three young girls in the evenings. As many kids do, they love to watch a few YouTube videos before they go to bed. I was a little bit disturbed to realize they watch videos that are filmed/created by a 30-year-old grown man. I had assumed kids watch videos of animated characters, games, and other kids, but this is obviously not the case. Definitely can turn icky quick. In regards to the advertising pull, I think people who make their money on YouTube make wayy too much of it anyways. Great post!

  3. I have young nephews and nieces, so this topic is very interesting to me. They are still very young now, but I am sure soon they will be online and on YouTube. It seems very weird to me how YouTubers target a young audience not only to be creepy, but also to make profits off of them. Kids nowadays are very different in seeing content compared to us growing up. We would watch cute cartoons and kid shows, but now they are on YouTube and who knows what videos they will be exposed to. Great Blog Post!

  4. Since I have three you get siblings, this issue is very important to me! I have noticed that some of my siblings programs have had creepy undertones and I don’t trust it as much as my parents do. It’s very unfortunate there is so many gross people out there manipulating these websites and putting kids in danger

  5. I think this topic is one that should be exposed more to the public. Before reading your post I was not really aware of the issues, but as we grow with technology and the ability to produce content on a worldwide level safety measures should be revised and a concern for those who frequent the platform. I think the most shocking part of this post was the fact that with the algorithms you don’t even need to be searching kids videos for them to be recommended to you. When it comes to the issue of handling the comment section on videos I would agree that it makes more sense for an algorithm change to just filter out the bad comments vs. disabling the entire section. This also raises the idea that parents who have kids that frequent the platform or even produce on the platform should monitor closely what their kids are doing online.

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