Why YouTube, currently under FTC probe, "could be a lot safer" for kids

Why YouTube "could be a lot safer" for kids

YouTube is currently facing a federal investigation led by the Federal Trade Commission. The platform has been accused of illegally collecting data on children.

Consumer groups allege that YouTube exposed children to inappropriate content, and failed to police videos featuring minors. In February, Wired reported on pedophiles using YouTube comment sections to guide other predators to videos of children. The site has since disabled the comments feature under those videos.

Both YouTube and the FTC declined to comment when CBS News asked about the investigation. But Nick Thompson, editor-in-chief of Wired, believes the platform still has a ways to go when it comes to safety.

"I think YouTube could be a lot safer," Thompson said. "YouTube has a special app – YouTube Kids – that is much safer. There are things you can do on YouTube, you can go into the settings and turn on restricted mode, that can make YouTube more safe, and make it less likely your kids will see inappropriate videos. But the nature of the internet, the nature of YouTube, the amount of stuff that's on there – yes, there are real risks with it."  

Data collection isn't the only risk. "There's a whole constellation of complaints," Thompson said, referring to the FTC investigation, the claim that the recommendation algorithm leads kids to disturbing content, and the allegation that the platform allows people with inappropriate thoughts about children to communicate.

"They're all serious," he said.

There is good news: YouTube appears to be trying to solve the problem. The platform is working on offering easier to use preferences for controlling comments, adjusting their algorithm, and building AI filters that more quickly identify inappropriate content.

"They're trying and it seems like they're getting better," he said. "This is a hard problem."  

YouTube has solved complicated problems before: when it looked like copyright issues could bring down the platform in its early years, the company figured out how to identify and remove illegal content.

"They got really good at that one," Thompson said. "They didn't get good at the safety stuff."

Until the problem is fully solved, Thompson said that parents should stay with their kids while they're watching YouTube.  If that's not practical, he said, limit their alone time on the platform as much as possible.

"Ten minutes is okay. The recommendation algorithm is not going to lead anybody to anything terrible in ten minutes," he said. "Leave them for 30 minutes in front of the recommendation algorithm … woah."