Lawmakers call YouTube Kids a ‘wasteland of vapid’ content

AP – A House subcommittee is investigating YouTube Kids, saying the Google-owned video service feeds children inappropriate material in “a wasteland of vapid, consumerist content” so it can serve them ads.

The inquiry comes despite Google agreeing to pay USD170 million in 2019 to settle allegations that YouTube collected personal data on children without their parents’ consent.

In a letter sent on Tuesday to YouTube Chief Executive Officer Susan Wojcicki, the United States (US) House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on economic and consumer policy said YouTube does not do enough to protect kids from material that could harm them.

Instead it relies on artificial intelligence and creators’ self-regulation to decide what videos make it on to the platform, according to the letter from the committee’s chairman, Illinois Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi.

And despite changes in the wake of the 2019 settlement, the letter noted, YouTube Kids still shows ads to children. But instead of basing it on kids’ online activity, it now targets it based on the videos they are watching.

YouTube app and YouTube Kids app are displayed on an iPhone in New York. PHOTO: AP

The congressional investigation comes a year into the pandemic that has shuttered schools and left parents who are working from home increasingly reliant on services such as YouTube to keep kids occupied. This has led to a rethinking of “screen time” rules and guilt over the amount of time kids spend in front of screens, with some experts recommending that parents focus on quality, not quantity.

But lawmakers said YouTube Kids is anything but quality.

“YouTube Kids spends no time or effort determining the appropriateness of content before it becomes available for children to watch,” the letter said.

“YouTube Kids allows content creators to self-regulate. YouTube only asks that they consider factors including the subject matter of the video, whether the video has an emphasis on kids characters, themes, toys or games, and more.”