Following the fiasco over YouTube’s serving ads to kids, the company may be readying to end targeted ads on videos aimed at children — a move that, when taken together with other recent measures, would indicate that at least on some fronts, YouTube is getting its shit together.
Citing three sources familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reported Tuesday that the company is “finalising plans” for the move — however, its sources stipulated that the company’s plans could change.
If the company makes good on the plans, the measure may be — though is not necessarily — a part of a settlement that YouTube is reported to have reached with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over violations of data privacy laws for kids.
A spokesperson for YouTube declined to comment about the report or how it defines videos targeted to children.
In June, it was reported that the FTC was probing complaints by consumer groups that YouTube was collecting data on its youngest users to serve them ads in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which imposes restrictions on the collection of information on users younger than 13 years old. YouTube claims that its service is not meant for children under 13, but the complaints and research argue otherwise.
In fact, a Pew Research Center analysis published in late July discovered that on YouTube, videos geared toward kids and those that featured children under 13 years of age were disproportionately popular on the platform, despite the fact that the company continues to squawk that its platform is not meant for young kids.
Last month, the Washington Post reported that the FTC had reached a settlement with YouTube’s parent company Google over the violations, and YouTube is said to be staring down a multimillion-dollar fine. The terms of that settlement, however, are still private — and again, it’s also unclear whether any move by YouTube to end targeted ads on videos kids are likely to watch is a part of that settlement. (Though the idea that YouTube would take a financial hit on its own merit seems, you know, pretty damn unlikely.)
Still, such a move would be less extreme than other measures the company has reportedly explored. Citing sources familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal reported in June that YouTube executives were weighing whether to move all children’s content to its YouTube Kids app to ensure that younger viewers aren’t inadvertently served inappropriate or downright disturbing content, courtesy of the site’s busted-arse algorithm.
Alongside YouTube’s efforts, Apple also reportedly plans to implement its own set of changes to better protect the kids, though those initiatives have since been delayed, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The updated rules — which involve barring apps in the App Store from running third-party advertising or analytics software on products intended for kids — were to be put in place in early September. But the company told the paper it is now delaying the changes as it works through them with developers. Apple told the paper in a statement that it isn’t “backing off on this important issue, but we are working to help developers get there.”
Of course, a change specifically addressing targeted ads is not the only tweak YouTube has made to address the myriads problems with its site. Following reports of predatory behaviour on the platform in the comments of videos of children, YouTube in February disabled comments on videos of minors and those “featuring older minors that could be at risk of attracting predatory behaviour.”
YouTube is also experimenting in India with hiding the comments section entirely, which is a measure that would help curb some of the unchecked abuse and foul commentary that festers on the site. This, again, seems like a great way to fix at least one problem on YouTube — even if some users will cry ‘but engagement!’ or something.
Separately, YouTube — following pressure from creators, of course — has also taken measures to address issues around copyright claims, including by updating its Content ID policy. The company also took legal action against a YouTube user that was exploiting its copyright reporting system and extorting users for PayPal and Bitcoin payments.
All this is to say, YouTube has definitely had its hands full — particularly with relation to its children’s privacy scandal — and appears to be making at least some much-needed changes. Now, if it can just stop turning people into raging maniacs without creators needing to take matters into their own hands, then we’ll really be getting somewhere.