Google’s anonymous source has said that they are working on a version of YouTube for children only, allowing parents to manage the content their kids can view online or upload. Google is a major online player, and its consideration for children’s well-being is very important.
Data mining and advertising
Google’s decision is making waves in the media. The debate focuses on children’s privacy and how to protect them. Google’s claim that it will provide greater safety for children is a mirage. They may need more adult supervision to determine what information they post on services like Gmail and YouTube.
Data mining is another concern. There are strict laws, such as the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act ( COPPA), that govern what internet companies may and may not do in tracking the online behavior of children for marketing purposes.
Center for Digital Democracy, a US-based advocacy group, is concerned that this move could lead Google’s digital advertising apparatus to target children for unhealthy products such as junk food.
It is important to protect children online, but it’s also important to consider that children are already avid internet users. 93% of children aged between three and nine spend eight hours online each week.
Jumping the Age-Gate
Children are avid video viewers on sites like YouTube. Many will say they prefer YouTube to TV because they can select the content. Children can view videos anonymously, as well as more racy videos that require a sign-in.
PewDiePie is a Swedish videogame commentator with millions of YouTube subscribers. A large number of them are children.
Many parents worry that internet stars like PewDiePie, who are popular with their children, are not suitable for them because they contain swearing or adult themes.
YouTube is a popular site for children to upload their videos. YouTube is full of videos of children taking part in the Ice Bucket Challenge that has been sweeping the globe.
They explain that they are able to access the content without any problems and bypass the age restrictions imposed by websites such as YouTube. Children admit to signing up for such accounts using a false age. One child told me that his birth date was somewhere in the 1800s. He also said that he would never give his real age on the internet.
A study conducted by Microsoft Research in 2011 and US universities revealed that while some parents know about their children’s fake account age, other parents do not and rely instead on internet companies to police their sites.
My discussions with 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds indicate that the majority of them sign up for accounts at least 3 or 4 years before they turn 13.
What should we do now?
Many people who have contributed to the debate about Google’s plans say that we should block them to protect our children. The fact that millions of people under 13 years old are already using this service shows how naive it is.
It is not appropriate to start by guiding children in cyberspace. This would ignore their extensive experience online. Dismissing their expertise will make it harder to support them when they come across adult content online.
Parents and educators must help children understand how online content is funded.
Some adults are upset about the personalized ads that target children now, thanks to sophisticated data-mining strategies. However, there are other forms of personalized, offline advertising already available.
In addition to vending machines, there are also advertisements on school buses and televisions, and commercial content is used in the classroom. Some parents believe that the harvesting of kids’ online information is just a continuation of the ongoing exploitation.
We should also raise the issue of parental controls on online behavior, as we expect parents to monitor their children’s online activities. It is unrealistic to expect parents to monitor their children’s online behavior 24/7. It is also naive to assume that technology will do this for us through nanny programs. We know from experience that these programs aren’t foolproof, and some children are able to circumvent them.
We need to teach children how to distinguish between the different types of content that are available online and offline. We need to teach our children the difference between editorial and advertising content.
Advertisements may not be packaged as advertisements, but they can still have a subtle effect on the content. It is important to help children develop analytical skills that will allow them to distinguish between the two, especially since they spend more and more of their time online.
It is important to have tough conversations with our children about what content online is inappropriate for them. Although we may not want them to see this content, the fact that the internet is so diverse and unregulated makes it likely that they will.
Google’s decision to allow children to create accounts is a great reflection point for modern society. This helps us to understand better how children interact with technology. Children’s welfare must be the focus of all policies and programs. Children today are more adept at using technology than most adults.
Support must be centered on guiding them to help them understand the world in which they live. We must give them real, consistent, and strong guidance, rather than leaving them to fend on their own.