Last week’s tech news reported that some companies in the tech/app/web world were starting to implement precautions designed to keep children from accidentally accessing inappropriate or adult content.
You Tube announced the launch of YouTubeKids. This is an app available for ios and android platforms specifically designed for kids. The app has kid friendly content such a Jim Henson TV, National Geographic Kids and other kid friendly YouTube shows. The YouTube kids app will filter for kid friendly content algorithmically and will also have a staff team that will manually sample videos on the site to try to ensure video content is child friendly.
In addition to screening content, the app also offers increased parental controls. Though the kid friendly app already screens the search option to try to block non child friendly content, parents can turn off the search function altogether. The parental controls also offer the option to limit the amount of time the child spends on the app. Another option, maybe more for parents than kids, is the ability to turn off the background music or other sound effects.
In the same week, Google announced that it would ban sexually explicit content from its Blogger site as of March 23, 2015. Currently, Google allows adult content on a blog that anyone can access, though it does come with a warning that the content is adult. The policy change was not removing elicit content from the blogger site, but making blogs with sexually explicit content or graphic nudity private. This change was a move that helped to make the internet a little safer for children. It would remove one avenue (though many many remain) where a child could inadvertently come across graphic sexual content. As this inadvertent exposure frequently occurs with children as young as 9 or 10 years old, removing one outlet felt like a move in the right direction.
Before you get too excited, a few days later, Google reported that they were not, in fact, implementing this policy. Based on the feedback they received, they determined that such a change would negatively impact those bloggers who used sexually explicit content to express themselves. The company did state that they would step up their enforcement of commercial pornography blogs which are not allowed on the site.
This reversal by Google really illustrates the difficulty that the industry has in creating a balance when it comes to cybersexuality. I don’t think anyone really wants young children to be exposed to explicit content. However, most people also don’t want their freedom of expression or first amendment rights infringed upon. Creating kid friendly apps and content is one way to help avoid the inadvertent exposure to pornography. However, the only true prevention is parental involvement. Parents have to know that apps like YouTubeKids exists. They have to pay enough attention to what their children are doing online. Ultimately, the parents have to make the time to talk to their children about sexuality and digital sexuality.
Ultimately, we cannot rely on corporations or regulations to keep children safe. We have to be involved in our children’s lives. Know what they are doing online and be able to talk to them about what they see online.