Ollie and Natasha had a chat about new research carried on the existence of YouTube "trap ads" and how they lure children into age inappropriate parts of the internet, and how it would be easy to put a stop to it.
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Audio only version:
If you prefer to read rather than watch, the transcription is here:
Ollie: The Ofcom research here in the UK shows that YouTube's main website remains the most popular website for kids all the way down the age group. So we know and YouTube knows that kids of all ages, are on there. And crucially, they're not logging in because technically you have to be 13 to create an account to use the YouTube main site so kids just don't create an account and use it without being logged in.
And our researchers did all sorts of clever things by simulating child user accounts. But they found that one particular particularly worrying aspect was that on a totally standard cartoon or video, so think Peppa Pig or Pip and Posy videos or Barbie videos, you know, very mainstream things, clearly targeted at very young children and completely sort of out in the open and sanctioned by YouTube. They would have a number of the normal features of YouTube turned off, which are there to protect children. So you can't comment. You know, people are worried that adults might lurk in the comments and try and talk to kids that way and stuff. You can't do the comments, they wouldn't be allowed to serve personalised adverts to people watching those, those videos, so adverts based on their own
habits and browsers, etc.
However, what we found is that alongside those videos would be little pictures of another cartoon character, which would be an advert, and if you clicked on that advert, it would take you off YouTube and onto a third party site, which was invariably advertising 18 plus video games, often violent video games. Very, very age inappropriate stuff. And on those sites, all of the tracking and the profiling of the kids' data would be going on. So we called these trap ads. We thought they were quite deceptive and very much placed next to these, like I say, mainstream, normal videos in order to lure kids off on to these basically unregulated and unsupervised spaces.
Natasha: Wow. I mean, that's really scary to hear isn't it? So you know...the number of parents who you know let their kids go on YouTube because that's where all these Peppa Pig videos etc. are.
Ollie: And YouTube on they're...like I say, they have a kids sub-platform called YouTube kids, and on that website and on that app, it's not possible to click on a website and leave the site, leave YouTube, or leave YouTube Kids rather. You always stay within the site. So they recognise that that sort of Trap Ad as we call it, or third party landing page or whatever jargon you want to use is. They recognise that that is that's problematic and that for young kids is not appropriate. So there's every reason that they should apply the same the same rules on YouTube's main site. Now, the problem is that they maintain this completely farcical line
that YouTube itself is not for kids. It's, you know, you have to be 13 to use it when everybody knows, themselves included, that millions of children under that age are using it.
And our research also found that although they don't publicly admit this, they are very much doing some sort of age verification process behind the scenes because when you simulate a young child's viewing activity, you know, if you then go and try and watch something which is more adult in content, things will pop up saying, "We're not clear that you're under 18, so please enter some ID details to prove that you're 18." So clearly behind the scenes YouTube
is making estimations as to people age. So why it couldn't do that on all videos which are marked as "made for kids" which these these videos were, the Peppa Pig videos etc. and couldn't say look anyone who's likely to be watching this video is almost certainly going to be a kid. So we'll just turn it all off, they could easily do that.
Natasha: And this is just another example of why we just can't trust the big tech platforms to police themselves.
Ollie: That's right.
Natasha: They do these, you know... Yes. It's great that there is a YouTube Kids and but it's clearly not enough is it? It's one small step that they, quite frankly know isn't going to protect most children because most children aren't using that. They're they're using the main platforms. But then they're also beneficiaries of
it being misused because they're making the money from the advertising.
So, what do we need Ollie? What... is there legislation that could be brought in? What could some solutions be?
Ollie: Yeah, I think there are three main ways that change can happen. One is that YouTube could turn this off in an instant. The quickest thing would be not to wait for a long bit of legislation to roll through either the UK courts, the UK Parliament or somewhere else. But for YouTube just to recognise that this is unnecessary, it's exploitative. It's potentially putting kids at risk of seeing really unpleasant stuff and just turn it off, you know? No, no lawmakers need to get involved.
The slower version is yeah, the there are existing bits of legislation rolling through the UK parliament that could very much and should be expanded to include what we call paid for advertising and to regulate it much more tightly. And there's one particular process going on at the moment where the government says it wants to look at how all of online advertising is regulated and what we at Global Action Plan are saying is this is a really clear example of how antiquated and out of its depth the existing advertising regulation regime is because really it still operates in a world of billboards and newspaper ads and adverts on telly. And we submitted evidence, at Global Action Plan of exactly this stuff going on to this inquiry saying, well, look, you know, where does this fall,
which regulation does this fall under?
And, you know, there is no regulation that says these trap ads are not permitted. So regulators need to catch up. But really, the platforms need to just take responsibility straight away and turn it off because they do elsewhere and they can.