Is Kid-Friendly Technology Possible?

In a recent articleWORLD aims to answer the question "Can tech really be kid-friendly?" On Wednesday the Google-owned company, YouTube, announced that it would be adding a number of features to the app YouTube Kids allowing parents to have greater control over what their children are watching online.

As of last week, parents can select certain channel collections (like Sesame Street or PBS Kids) they want their children to access, and when a parent turns off the search button, only videos verified by the YouTube Kids team will be recommended. According to the article, YouTube also plans to add a feature that will allow parents to specifically handpick every video and channel available to their child in the app later this year.

When the app YouTube Kids was released in 2015 it was intended to offer a safer video experience for children; however, many parents reported that videos containing profanity, violence, and sexual themes regularly slipped through the app's filter because it relied on algorithms, not human viewers.

"Giving parents more control doesn't absolve YouTube of the responsibility of keeping the bad content out of YouTube Kids," said Josh Golin, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC). Golin contends most kids still use the regular YouTube app anyway.

According to WORLD, in April a group of more than 20 child-advocacy and consumer-protection groups, including CCFC, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, requesting an investigation be done into whether YouTube's data-collection and advertising practices violate federal child privacy rules.

"To abide by federal law, YouTube's regular site contains a disclaimer that it is not for users under 13," the article states. "These groups argue the site's kid-friendly videos and kid-luring ads for toys, theme parks, and sneakers prove the company knows it has millions of under-13 users and is profiting from their data."

Despite scrutiny, apps like Youtube Kids and Facebook's new messaging app, Kid's Messenger, many companies are choosing to focus on creating child-friendly products. Amazon recently announced a child-friendly Alexa. The software is created to respond with praise for children who ask questions in a polite manner. Fitbit, a company known for bracelets allowing users to track their physical activity and sleeping patterns, also plans to release the first activity tracker bracelet for children ages 8 and up. Fitbit will soon be able to track how much kids are moving and sleeping.

All these companies are getting around federal law by having underage users tied to their parents' online profiles; however, they are still marketing to children and harvesting their data. These new technologies created and marketed to children serve as a reminder to parents to be aware of what media and software are in the home.