YouTube says it has made its YouTube Kids app more parent-friendly, including by giving them the option to restrict their kids' searches.
"When we announced the app, we said YouTube Kids was our first step in reimagining YouTube for families. And we’re always looking for ways to make it even better," the company blogged Thursday (Oct. 1). "So today we’re sharing some new ways we're helping parents and kids enjoy the family content they love."
That includes some "just-for-parents" features to help them better control of their kids' use of the app. YouTube says when parents open the app they will get an upfront guide on how to choose and recommend content and flag videos as inappropriate. The will also be prompted to choose how "broadly" they want their kids to be able to search among what it calls "millions of family-friendly videos" or limit those searches.
A coalition of consumer groups including the Center for Digital Democracy complained to the Federal Trade Commission that the app does not sufficiently screen out inappropriate content.
In April, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed a supplement to their complaint against YouTube Kids for mixing ads and content, saying the app is also not the safe place for kids it is advertised to be.
The groups say they found the following available via the YouTube Kids app: "Explicit sexual language presented amidst cartoon animation [a Family Guy parody of the FCC's indecency crackdown grafted onto another cartoon show]; videos that model unsafe behaviors such as playing with lit matches, shooting a nail gun, juggling knives, tasting battery acid, and making a noose; a profanity-laced parody of the film Casino featuring Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street; graphic adult discussions about family violence, pornography and child suicide; jokes about pedophilia and drug use; advertising for alcohol products."
“We work to make the videos in YouTube Kids as family-friendly as possible and take feedback very seriously,” said a YouTube spokesperson when the supplement was filed. “Anyone can flag a video and these videos are manually reviewed 24/7 and any videos that don’t belong in the app are removed. For parents who want a more restricted experience, we recommend that they turn off search.”
Josh Golin of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which joined in the FTC complaint, was not assuaged by this week's YouTube Kids app changes.
"Google is still pushing the idea that YTK is a safe place to explore," he said. "Even the language they use now, 'turn search on to access millions of family-friendly videos,' makes no mention of the access kids will have to innumerable un-family-friendly videos. The objectionable content on YTK is not just the profanity, modeling unsafe behaviors, and the sexualized and violent content, etc. It’s also the harmful commercialism."