YouTube Kids, Criticized for Content, Introduces New Parental Controls

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Some content that has slipped past filters on YouTube Kids, which is supposed to contain only child-friendly content, contains well-known characters in disturbing situations.

YouTube Kids, which has been criticized for inadvertently recommending disturbing videos to children, said Wednesday that it would introduce several ways for parents to limit what can be watched on the popular app.

Beginning this week, parents will be able to select “trusted channels” and topics that their children can access on the app, like “Sesame Workshop” or “learning,” that have been curated by people at YouTube Kids and its partners. The Google-owned app said in a blog post on Wednesday that parents would also have the option to restrict video recommendations to channels that have been “verified” by YouTube Kids, avoiding the broader sea of content that the app pulls from the main YouTube site through algorithms and other automated processes.

YouTube Kids was introduced in 2015 for children of preschool age and older, and it says it has more than 11 million weekly viewers. But parents have discovered a range of inappropriate videos on the app, highlighting the platform’s dependence on automation and a lack of human oversight. The New York Times reported in the fall that children using the app had been shown videos with popular characters from Nick Jr. and Disney Junior in violent or lewd situations, and other disturbing imagery, sometimes set to nursery rhymes.

More recently, Business Insider reported that the app was suggesting conspiracy theory videos to children, including claims that the world is flat and that the moon landing was faked. YouTube Kids had previously relied primarily on parents to report troubling videos, a practice that was criticized because children are often the only ones watching the content on tablets or phones.

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This video, which appeared on YouTube Kids, was uploaded by a verified account on YouTube called Freak Family and has attracted more than 20 million views.

Later this year, parents will be able to handpick every video and channel that children can view through the app, YouTube Kids said in its blog post, even restricting them to, say, 10 videos or a single channel.

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Parents will be able to limit access to videos from channels approved either by them or by the YouTube Kids team.

The changes announced Wednesday provide “a more robust suite of tools for parents to customize the YouTube Kids experience,” James Beser, product director for the platform, said in a statement. “From collections of channels from trusted partners to enabling parents to select each video and channel themselves, we’re putting parents in the driver’s seat like never before.”

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