Lawmakers set sights on video services popular with kids

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Two Democratic lawmakers have proposed a measure that would drastically change the way online companies like YouTube serve up content to underage users.

The Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act would require companies like YouTube, Tiktok and others to completely overhaul their services, which could have ripple effects on the way these services operate for adults as well.

One Democratic lawmaker said the measure was needed because children are spending an increasing amount of time in front of computer screens — including smartphones — and “powerful companies push kids to buy products at every turn online.”

“Top platforms are saturated with disturbing content that no kid should ever be exposed to,” Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) said in a statement.

But the bill isn’t targeting graphic or violent content — it appears to be targeting videos and other content that show merchandise and other services aimed at children. As noted by The Verge, the bill takes explicit aim at so-called “unboxing” videos where social media users slowly remove products from packages.

The proposed measure wouldn’t ban those types of videos, but it would prevent companies like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and others from promoting those videos when children are watching a stream. It would also ban video-sharing websites from offering underage viewers an “autoplay” feature where a new video begins after a previous one ends.

It isn’t clear how companies are expected to screen underage viewers from adult ones, though the prohibition on these features would likely require a complete overhaul of a service — meaning it would impact underage and adult viewers alike.

Some think the bill is long overdue, but its timing may render it unnecessary: After federal regulators fined YouTube and parent company Google for violations of a federal law prohibiting data collection of underage users, the company announced it would require video creators to identify if their content was made specifically for children. If so, YouTube places severe restrictions on both the type of data that can be collected and whether or not content creators can monetize their videos through advertisements.

Video creators said the new policy sent a chilling effect over whether YouTube or the FTC would hold producers directly responsible if videos were found to be mislabeled.

“It’s hard to know if we’re in violation or not,” Dan Eardley, a toy reviewer on YouTube, told The Verge last November.

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