Long before there were influencers on Instagram, there were ordinary people on their way to making millions on YouTube. (Case in point: Ryan's ToyReview, which brought in $22 million last year).  

The problem is that, as anyone with young kids knows, YouTube has already changed how they consume content, but it's brought with it some big pitfalls.

In short, it's easy for parents to allow their children to watch an innocuous kids' video on YouTube, only to have it be followed with some inappropriate or even downright dangerous or offensive content.

Today, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that there are two big changes under consideration:

  1. Moving all children's content from YouTube into its completely separate, walled app, YouTube Kids.
  2. Disabling the autoplay feature at least for children's content, which currently lines up video after algorithmically selected video -- some of which don't really make any sense (at best).

These would come on top of recent changes, like restricting live features involving kids, disabling comments on kids videos, and reducing recommendations.

I've seen some of the issues -- especially the autoplay issue -- firsthand. 

When my daughter was a toddler, we would treat her by letting her watch videos from Sesame Street, only to find that the next videos automatically queued up afterward were things like a bootleg copy of a Turkish children's show we'd never heard of. (And couldn't possibly understand.)

There are reports of a lot worse of course, including conspiracy theory videos, and some that start out looking like kid-appropriate videos but that are actually disturbing fakes.

Use your imagination, and then consider that there's probably some person out there with a sicker imagination using it to no good. 

The Journal's Rob Copeland reports that that the possible changes are "still under discussion and not considered imminent," at Google-owned YouTube, which makes sense given the far-reaching ramifications to making these kinds of UX changes to a multibillion dollar revenue stream.

Reportedly, the idea of a separate app for kids originated with management, while a select group of YouTube employees have been pushing for the idea of turning off autoplay for kids' content.

The market is already speaking, of course. While the vast majority of parents do allow their young kids to watch YouTube videos at least sometimes, it only takes one or two bad experiences to turn them off for life.

(In our case, we wound up moving away from YouTube, and instead downloading and paying for kid-related video apps: PBS Kids, DisneyNow, and Nickelodeon for example.)

No matter what the immediate impetus, Copleand reports that Google CEO Sundar Pichai hasn't previously been very hands-on with YouTube, but that in recent months he's become "personally involved in steering the unit through recent stumbles."

And while the company has to be careful and cautious, it's hard to imagine anything that could undermine its image as looking like it doesn't care enough to protect kids.

"YouTube is a company made up of parents and families," the company wrote in a blog post earlier this month, "and we'll always do everything we can to prevent any use of our platform that attempts to exploit or endanger minors."

Apparently, that could soon include some pretty radical changes.

Published on: Jun 19, 2019
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