Google has launched a family-friendly version of YouTube in the UK and Ireland that is designed to shield young children from inappropriate content.
YouTube Kids is designed to be a safer environment for 3 to 8-year-olds, who could easily run into explicit or offensive videos on YouTube itself, and displays children’s TV shows, nursery rhymes and educational videos within a playful interface.
The service takes its videos from YouTube’s enormous library of clips, but uses strict content controls to filter out any suggestive, violent or foul-mouthed content. Many of the videos one can find on the full YouTube service have been removed, and searching for terms like “sex” or “porn” triggers an alert suggesting that children search for something else.
YouTube is already a huge source of children’s video, and the Kids app’s launch in the UK comes as parents have abandoned placing children in front of the TV in favour of tablets. Children aged 4-15 watch 118 minutes of live television a day, 33 minutes less than they did in 2010, according to Ofcom. But seven in 10 now have access to a tablet and one in three have their own.
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YouTube Kids does show adverts before videos, certain types such as those for food and drink are banned, and unlike YouTube itself, users do not have to log in, so ads are not targeted based on a user profile. It also comes with a number of safety and parental features. For example, parents can set a timer, which locks the app when it runs out, and disable the search function.
The app, which is available on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, has been downloaded more than 10 million times since it launched in the US earlier this year, although it has been criticised for not doing enough to remove inappropriate videos.
In May, child and consumer advocacy groups complained to America’s Federal Trade Commission that the app contained “inappropriate content”, including sexual language and jokes about paedophilia. Reviewers on both the Google Play Store and App Store have complained about inappropriate videos, although the app has garnered largely positive reviews.
Google says it uses complex screening algorithms to block as much unsuitable content as possible, which are backed up by human moderators who will remove videos when they are flagged by concerned users. However, it says it is impossible to be 100 per cent safe, and presents YouTube Kids as a “safer” experience.
Concerned parents can also remove the search function, meaning only videos on the app’s five homescreens are displayed.
How YouTube Kids works
When opening the app for the first time, grown-ups are guided through a set-up process that allows them to toggle certain settings such as turning search on or off. To change any settings, parents are asked to enter a passcode spelled out by the app – for example “TWO, SIX, THREE, SEVEN” – which young children typically struggle with.
Users can then scroll between four screens – Shows, Music, Learning and Explore – which show a range of videos, video playlists and channels. A fifth – Recommended – is added after some time, suggesting videos based on previous watching habits.
Children are also able to access a search feature, which they can input terms into with the touchscreen or Google’s voice-recognition software for those unable to type. However, searching for inappropriate terms brings up a screen saying: “Try searching for something else!”
There is also a a settings menu, only available with the passcode system, which supervisors can use to adjust settings such as background music, a timer, and the search function.
While the app works on phones and tablets, it can also be used to “cast” onto a TV using Google’s Chromecast, the Apple TV or game consoles.