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YouTube’s Attempt at Parental Controls

By Lynette Owens

You may not have noticed, but earlier this month YouTube made available a new feature that is intended to help users block others from viewing videos that might be inappropriate for them.  It doesn’t remove any content from their site, it just keeps it off the page whenever this feature is on.  Introducing, Safety Mode.

In theory, a parent or teacher who wants to restrict kids from viewing age-inappropriate videos on YouTube from a shared browser should love Safety Mode.  It is supposed to act much like a parental control filter like those you can find in computer security software, such as Trend Micro Internet Security.

According to the instructional video that describes how to use it, you can lock Safety Mode (by logging into your account), prevent any videos from being displayed if certain words are entered into the search box, and by default prevent comments from being displayed with any videos.

So I tried it.  On the home page, I noticed that some videos were not being displayed any longer, probably because of the content they contained.  I selected a video and saw that the comments field had been collapsed.  So far, so good.

I then proceeded to test the blocking function based on search terms.  I tried the ones shown in the video, and it worked as advertised.  However, I tried other terms that might be associated with age-inappropriate content and was disappointed that it still returned search results for videos that appeared to be inappropriate (based on the still frames being displayed in the results).

YouTube acknowledges that no filtering capability is perfect and requires that users still abide by their community guidelines for any content or comments posted.  However, they might benefit from taking a cue from the companies who have been doing parental control filtering for a while and providing some control over what search terms (or categories) they might want to add to the blocking function.

Safety Mode is also browser-specific, so you need to turn it on for any browser in your home that your kids might use.  Note: it doesn’t currently work on mobile devices with internet access.

YouTube’s terms of service does require you to be over the age of 13 to use their site, and recommends that you do not use it if you are younger than that.   Kudos to YouTube for making this a requirement and acknowledging that there is a lot of content on their site that some people are just not old enough to see.

But there is also a lot of good, harmless, educational and entertaining content on there, too. (My kids love the toddler who does the cover of the Beatles’ song “Hey Jude”.)  So, given YouTube’s age restrictions and the current capabilities of its Safety Mode, it might be best for some parents to simply block access to YouTube through your security software’s parental control feature or only let your kids watch YouTube under your supervision.

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