YouTube has been under fire for many months over the way it handles programming and treatment of children. The main issue comes from an assortment of horrendously bad videos that were crafted to game the system and target children. The company committed to crack down on these types of videos, but there's no denying that it would still be a cat and mouse game as the bad creators would surely find new ways to wiggle through any new filters. BuzzFeed reported an entirely new app was in development and that it abandoned the algorithmic suggestions in favor of Google-curated videos. However, based on additions in the latest YouTube Kids update, it looks like a new app is probably not going to be necessary because that feature is already in the works and will actually extend beyond just Google's eyes.
The features discussed below are probably not live yet, or may only be live for a small percentage of users. Unless stated otherwise, don't expect to see these features if you install the apk.
Collections from trustworthy partners
YouTube's solution to the challenge of serving good videos to kids is going to be Collections. Instead of relying entirely on algorithmic filters to be responsible for separating family-friendly videos from creepy content, Google is partnering with other companies and organizations that will make their own lists of channels they consider reliable for good children's programming.
When parents begin using YouTube Kids, they'll be able to browse through and pick collections from the sources they trust. With each collection, they're getting all of the channels that were chosen to go with it. It's basically a batch subscription system. The maintainers of those collections will not be able to filter specific videos, they can only add or remove channels.
This is the explanation found in the YouTube Kids app:
Our partners have created channel collections that they believe are appropriate for kids. Collections and channels can add new content at any time, so it's important to review carefully and choose sources you trust. As always, it's best to keep an eye on what your child is watching.
<string name="parent_approved_3p_description">Your child will only be able to watch videos from YouTube Kids partner collections that you select</string>
<string name="parent_approved_first_time_dialog_3p_description">Our partners have created channel collections that they believe are appropriate for kids. Collections and channels can add new content at any time, so it\'s important to review carefully and choose sources you trust. As always, it\'s best to keep an eye on what your child is watching.</string>
<string name="parent_approved_first_time_dialog_3p_with_offline_description">Our partners have created channel collections that they believe are appropriate for kids. Collections and channels can add new content at any time, so it\'s important to review carefully and choose sources you trust. Also remember to review any videos you previously saved offline, because they will remain accessible unless you delete them. As always, it\'s best to keep an eye on what your child is watching.</string>
<string name="parent_approved_first_time_dialog_3p_confirm_text">Select Collections</string>
<string name="parent_approved_first_time_dialog_title">Things to know</string>
<string name="parent_approved_setting_change_failed_toast">Failed to change setting. Try again.</string>
<string name="parent_approved_setting_change_toast">Setting updated</string>
This system appears to be opt-out. If parents prefer the current content filter system, they will be able to turn off "Approved Content only" mode. It also looks like the search feature will be disabled if the account is limited to approved content. That makes sense for keeping kids from stumbling onto junk with some unfortunate search phrases, but it would be better if kids could still search through videos from trusted channels. Perhaps that will become possible at or after launch.
<string name="parent_approved_card_title">Approved content only</string>
<string name="parent_approved_curators_changed_toast">Changes saved</string>
<string name="curator_selection_fragment_title">Select collections</string>
<string name="curator_selection_fragment_empty_dialog_title">You didn\'t select anything</string>
<string name="curator_selection_fragment_empty_dialog_message">Turn off \'Approved Content only\' mode?</string>
<string name="curator_selection_fragment_empty_dialog_confirm_text">Turn off</string>
<string name="curator_selection_fragment_empty_dialog_cancel_text">Select collections</string>
<string name="curator_selection_fragment_update_curators_error">Couldn\'t save collections. Try again.</string>
<string name="parent_approved_disabled_search_description">Unavailable because your child is limited to approved content</string>
There's no text that specifically confirms this, but it seems like the new collections are likely to work together with individual channel subscriptions, another feature recently spotted in a teardown, but not yet live.
The first signs that YouTube would be working on this system, and that it planned to collaborate with partners on managing content, appeared back in early March with the release of v3.20. Two developer-only settings had been added for testing a "Parent Approved Feature" and "Third Party Curation." Both settings were removed shortly after.
<com.google.android.apps.youtube.kids.ui.KidsPrefLinkedCheckboxPreference android:title="Enable Parent Approved Feature" android:key="devEnableParentApproved" android:summary="" />
<com.google.android.apps.youtube.kids.ui.KidsPrefLinkedCheckboxPreference android:title="Enable Third Party Curation" android:key="devEnableThirdPartyCuration" android:summary="" />
<Preference android:title="Reset has_used_approved_only" android:key="reset_has_used_approved_only" />
Unfortunately, no details are included here that would give away the names of any partners, so we'll have to wait and see which companies and organizations will be picking the content they want kids to see.
This looks like a pretty good solution to the problem of filtering content. With human eyes making judgements about which channels produce suitable content, there's little doubt that gaming the system will be much harder. This also happens to provide an almost ironclad safety net to protect YouTube from further scrutiny. After all, parents will now have to point blame at the maintainers of collections and any individual channels if anything unsavory gets through.
As for parents, I expect many will like collections, as well. Aside from a small amount of work picking trustworthy sources, this should ease their concerns about the quality of content. Perhaps more notable is that it will also finally give them an option to specifically include or exclude certain types of content, like religious themes.
The one group that may face some problems with this change is the pool of content creators. For larger, well-funded channels, this will likely make their videos even more profitable as they'll have less competition. However, smaller channels may find it difficult or nearly impossible to gain the attention of Google's partners that manage collections.
One little side topic that we skipped from v3.23. YouTube Kids will likely add an option to switch the parental lock screen to a math-based captcha instead of one that simply relies on reading. The current screen (shown below), requires parents to simply read and enter four numbers, but as kids get a little older, the basic reading skills come pretty quickly.
New lines added in the previous update show that YouTube may allow parents to turn on math questions to enter settings. Presumably, it would raise the age at which kids are likely to be able to bypass the lockscreen and make changes. This feature doesn't appear to be live yet.
<string name="pref_enable_math_gate_summary">Cause the math gate to appear when the parental lock icon is pressed.</string>
The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.