Your YouTube viewing experience is changing. The streaming-video platform is now giving users more control over YouTube recommendations.
The changes come at a time when YouTube is fending off complaints from child advocacy groups and media reports over its collection of kids' data and its recommendation function that allows pedophiles to suss out family videos of children swimming or doing gymnastics. And like other social media sites, YouTube has a problem with fake news.
We'll explain the changes coming to YouTube and offer advice on how to keep your children safe online.
Recommendations and algorithms
YouTube has started rolling out three specific changes aimed at enhancing the viewer's experience. The changes also are meant to answer why viewers are getting specific content suggestions and how to stop it.
First, YouTube is making it easier to explore topics and videos on an individual's home page and in the Up Next videos. In a blog post, YouTube stated that recommendations for topics and videos are "based on your existing personalized suggestions and are meant to help you find what you're looking for faster."
This new feature can be found on your homepage when you scroll up and on Up Next when browsing. It will be available for signed-in users in English on the YouTube app for Android. It will be available on iOS, desktop and other languages soon.
The second change will allow you to remove YouTube's suggestions for channels and videos you don’t want to watch.
To apply the function, tap the three-dot menu next to a video on the homepage or on the Up Next section, and then tap "Don’t recommend channel." This feature is available now on the YouTube app for Android and iOS. The feature will be available on desktops soon.
If you've ever wondered why in the world YouTube is recommending a particular channel or video to you, the channels third new feature might provide some answers for you.
"[S]ometimes, we recommend videos from channels you haven’t seen before based on what other viewers with similar interests have liked and watched in the past," according to the blog post. "When we’re suggesting videos based on this, you'll now see more information underneath the video in a small box."
Basically, YouTube is giving you a peek at its algorithm in order to explain why certain videos appear on your homepage. This new feature is now available on the YouTube app for iOS and will be available on Android and desktop soon.
YouTube's critics not happy
YouTube's algorithm continues to be a source of controversy, especially as it relates to children.
The New York Times recently reported on an experiment by a team of researchers from Harvard that involved a server following YouTube recommendations on various topics thousands of times.
When the experiment began tracking videos with sexual themes, researchers studied a "rabbit hole effect," as they called it, in which the women in the recommended videos became younger, eventually culminating in adult women dressed as children. Then viewers were steered to actual videos of "partially clothed children."
The Times suggests that YouTube’s algorithm possibly learned from people who look at children in sexually exploitative ways, leading them to family videos.
"The changes won't solve the pedophile problem. The only way to do that is to turn off recommendations on videos featuring young children altogether, something YouTube refuses to do because it would hurt revenue," said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, in response to a question from Komando.com.
"Ultimately, YouTube is not a safe place for children, and not only because of the huge swaths of inappropriate content."
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood was one of several child advocacy groups that signed a letter claiming that YouTube does not protect children. The letter was sent to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Complaints against the company's inability to protect children date back to 2015.
According to YouTube, the company has invested in various technologies over the years to protect youngsters who view the channel. YouTube said it terminates accounts of children under the age of 13. In 2015, the company created YouTube Kids for children 13 and under.
In the first quarter of 2019, a YouTube blog post stated that the company had removed more than 800,00 videos due to violations of its child safety policy. Earlier this year, YouTube began scrambling to remove pedophiles from its site when a video was posted that pointed out how child predators were operating within YouTube.
Amid complaints that pedophiles were using the comments section to discuss or suggest videos of children, YouTube disabled comments on content featuring minors. It also has restricted children from live streaming unless they are accompanied by an adult. YouTube also updated its machine-learning tools so it can better identify videos that put minors at risk.
Remember, while YouTube may have a hard time protecting your child, parents are not completely defenseless. There are apps out there that pedophiles use to groom children. Komando.com has the names of the apps and more information here.
Another tool you can use is Kim Komando's Tech Safety Contract, which helps parents set up boundaries and expectations for their kids' online use.
YouTube 'looking at' changes to protect kids -- until then, here's what to do
YouTube is said to be considering a major change to keep inappropriate content away from children and keep child predators' eyes off videos featuring kids. Until then, we have tips you can use to keep your child safe on YouTube and other sites online.