YouTube to spend $100M on original children’s content – gpgmail


Creators of child-directed content will be financially impacted by the changes required by the FTC settlement, YouTube admitted today. The settlement will end the use of children’s personal data for ad-targeting purposes, the FTC said. To address creators’ concerns over their businesses, YouTube also announced a $100 million fund to invest in original children’s content.

The fund, distributed over three years, will be dedicated to the creation of “thoughtful” original content for YouTube and YouTube Kids globally, the company says.

“We know these changes will have a significant business impact on family and kids creators who have been building both wonderful content and thriving businesses, so we’ve worked to give impacted creators four months to adjust before changes take effect on YouTube,” wrote YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in a blog post. “We recognize this won’t be easy for some creators and are committed to working with them through this transition and providing resources to help them better understand these changes.”

YouTube plans to share more information about the fund and its plans in the weeks ahead.

In addition, YouTube said today it’s “rethinking” its overall approach the YouTube kids and family experience.

This could go towards fixing some of the other problems raised by the consumer advocacy groups who prompted the FTC investigation. The groups weren’t entirely pleased by the settlement, as they believed it was only scratching the surface of YouTube’s issue.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the FTC isn’t requiring more substantive changes or doing more to hold Google accountable for harming children through years of illegal data collection,” said Josh Golin, the Executive Director for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a group that spearheaded the push for an investigation. “A plethora of parental concerns about YouTube – from inappropriate content and recommendations to excessive screen time – can all be traced to Google’s business model of using data to maximize watch time and ad revenue,” he added.

Google already began to crack down on some of these concerns, independent of an FTC requirement, however.

To tackle the scourage of inappropriate content targeting minors, YouTube in August expanded its child safety policies to remove — instead of only restrict, as it did before — any “misleading family content, including videos that target younger minors and their families, those that contain sexual themes, violence, obscene, or other mature themes not suitable for younger audiences.”

Separately, YouTube aims to address the issues raised around promotional content in videos.

For example, a video with kids playing with toys could be an innocent home movie or it could involve a business agreement between the video creator and a brand to showcase the products in exchange for free merchandise or direct payment.

The latter should be labeled as advertising, as required by YouTube, but that’s often not the case. And even when ads are disclosed, it’s impossible for young children to know the difference between when they’re being entertained and when they’re being marketed to.

There are also increasing concerns over the lack of child labor laws when it comes to children performing in YouTube videos, which has prompted some parents to exploit their kids for views or even commit child abuse.

YouTube’s “rethinking” of its kids’ experience should also include whether or not it should continue to incentivize the creation of these “kid influencer” and YouTube family videos, where little girls and boys’ childhoods have become the source of parents’ incomes.

YouTube’s re-evaluation of the kids’ experience comes at a time when the FTC is also thinking of how to better police general audience platforms on the web, where some content is viewed by kids. The regulator is hosting an October workshop to discuss this issue, where it hopes to come up with ways to encourage others to develop kid-safe zones, too.


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YouTube creators may also be held liable for COPPA violations, following FTC settlement – gpgmail


The FTC is imposing a historic fine of $170 million for YouTube’s violation of the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The settlement agreement will put increased responsibility on both YouTube and the content creators themselves to properly identify any child-directed content on the platform, as YouTube is now prohibited from collecting personal data from viewers of any of those videos. Creators who fail to comply with this new requirement may be penalized directly, the FTC revealed at a press conference this morning. This could include both civil penalties and their removal from the YouTube platform.

These specific consequences weren’t detailed in either the FTC or YouTube’s earlier statements about the settlement agreement, and serve to put the creator community on notice.

“We would have strong penalties in future cases against content creators and channel owners, as well — particularly when we would have a situation where the channel owner was specifically asked ‘are you child-directed?,’  and the channel owner said ‘No,” said Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Andrew Smith.

The ability to target children’s videos using behavioral advertising technology has been a profitable business for creators, so changes that require creators to dial things back could have encouraged some to try to skirt the new rules.

That was a concern, the FTC said, which is why it will continue to review YouTube content.

The regulator says when the order is fully implemented, it will perform a sweep of YouTube to identify any child-directed content that continues to collect personally identifiable information. It wouldn’t say how this sweep would work, on a technical level, or how it will be able to keep up with the huge influx of new content YouTube sees every day.

The FTC also promised other “consequences” for content creators who are not sincere or forthcoming about their content, which could include “being kicked off the YouTube platform,” it said.

YouTube isn’t likely to let it come to that, however.

“We also think that YouTube has a strong incentive to police its platform both to avoid future enforcement actions by the FTC, but also because it’s offering this platform to content creators,” Smith said. “And if the FTC is bringing independent piecemeal actions against content creators, for violating COPPA, that may discourage content creators from posting content on YouTube,” he added.

YouTube, itself, did not specify what sort of enforcement it would take itself against non-compliant creators, only that further information would be shared with the community ahead of the start of these new data practices — in about four months’ time.

At that point, YouTube says it will limit data collection on child-directed content and stop serving personalized ads on the videos. It will also turn off comments and notifications on these children’s videos. YouTube creators, meanwhile, will have a new checkbox where they’ll need to inform YouTube if their content is aimed at children in order to meet the new guidelines.

YouTube, additionally, plans to use machine learning techniques to identify other child-directed content — like videos featuring kids’ characters, toys and games, for example. It will then automatically bucket those items as also being children’s content and will limit the data collection taking place on those videos, too.

To be in violation of COPPA, the creator would have to leave this checkbox unchecked and avoid getting flagged through YouTube’s automated systems. (Or return to their videos to disable the designation at some point, perhaps.)

YouTube will have more to share in the coming weeks about the impacts to creators, the changes they’ll need to make and its plans for a new $100 million fund for kid-friendly YouTube content.


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Ahead of FTC ruling, YouTube Kids is getting a website – gpgmail


Ahead of the official announcement of an FTC settlement which could force YouTube to direct under-13-year-old users to a separate experience for YouTube’s kid-friendly content, the company has quietly announced plans to launch its YouTube Kids service on the web. Previously, parents would have to download the YouTube Kids app to a mobile device in order to access the filtered version of YouTube.

By bringing YouTube Kids to the web, the company is prepared for the likely outcome of an FTC settlement which would require the company to implement an age-gate on its site, then redirect under-13-year-olds to a separate kid-friendly experience.

In addition, YouTube Kids is gaining a new filter which will allow parents to set the content to being preschooler-appropriate.

The announcement, published to the YouTube Help forums, was first spotted by Android Police.

It’s unclear if YouTube was intentionally trying to keep these changes from being picked up on by a larger audience (or the press) by publishing the news to a forum instead of its official YouTube blog. (The company tells us it publishes a lot of news the forum site. Sure, okay. But with an FTC settlement looming, it seems an odd destination for such an announcement.)

It’s also worth noting that, around the same time as the news was published, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki posted her quarterly update for YouTube creators. The update is intended to keep creators abreast of what’s in store for YouTube and its community. But this quarter, her missive spoke solely about the value in being an open platform, and didn’t touch on anything related to kids content or the U.S. regulator’s investigation.

However, it’s precisely YouTube’s position on “openness” that concerns parents when it comes to their kids watching YouTube videos. The platform’s (almost) “anything goes” nature means kids can easily stumble upon content that’s too adult, controversial, hateful, fringe, or offensive.

The YouTube Kids app is meant to offer a safer destination, but YouTube isn’t manually reviewing each video that finds its way there. That has led to inappropriate and disturbing content slipping through the cracks on numerous occasions, and eroding parents’ trust.

Because many parents don’t believe YouTube Kids’ algorithms can filter content appropriately, the company last fall introduced the ability for parents to whitelist specific videos or channels in the Kids app. It also rolled out a feature that customized the app’s content for YouTube’s older users, ages 8 through 12. This added gaming content and music videos.

Now, YouTube is further breaking up the “Younger” content level filter, which was previously 8 and under, into two parts. Starting now, “Younger” applies to ages 5 through 7, while the new “Preschool” filter is for the age 4 and under group. The latter will focus on videos that promote “creativity, playfulness, learning, and exploration,” says YouTube.

YouTube confirmed to gpgmail that its forum announcement is accurate, but the company would not say when the YouTube Kids web version would go live, beyond “this week.”

The YouTube Kids changes are notable because they signal that YouTube is getting things in place before an FTC settlement announcement that will impact how it handles kids content and the site’s continued use by young children.

It’s possible that YouTube will be fined by the FTC for its violations of COPPA, as Musical.ly (TikTok) was earlier this year. One report, citing unnamed sources, says the FTC’s YouTube settlement has been finalized and includes a multimillion-dollar fine.

YouTube will also likely be required to implement an age-gate on its site and in its apps that will direct under-13-year-olds to the YouTube Kids platform instead of YouTube proper. The settlement may additionally require YouTube to stop targeting ads on videos aimed at children, as has been reported by Bloomberg. 

We probably won’t see the FTC issuing a statement about its ruling ahead of this Labor Day weekend, but it may do so in advance of its October workshop focused on refining the COPPA regulation — an event that has the regulator looking for feedback on how to properly handle sites like YouTube. 

 

 


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Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo Will Require Loot Box Drop Rate Disclosures


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Loot boxes have been controversial since they were introduced. That controversy was turbo-charged back in 2017, when EA and DICE decided to make the entire economy of Star Wars Battlegrounds II entirely dependent on randomized loot box drops and insanely long grinds. That particular shameful cash grab may have exploded in the company’s face like the Death Star over Endor, but it kicked off an investigation into how loot boxes work across the globe. The FTC held a workshop on gaming loot boxes on Wednesday, August 7, to discuss issues surrounding this method of dispensing in-game loot. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo announced a new initiative at said workshop — one that will require all games published on their platforms to disclose the chance of receiving rewards.

Polygon reports that Michael Warnecke, the ESA’s (Entertainment Software Association) chief counsel of tech policy, made the announcement at the workshop today.

I’m pleased to announce this morning that Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony have indicated to ESA a commitment to new platform policies with respect to the use of paid loot boxes in games that are developed for their platforms. Specifically, this would apply to new games and game updates that add loot box features, and it would require the disclosure of the relative rarity or probabilities of obtaining randomized virtual items in games that are available on their platforms.

Publishers have similarly rallied to state they’ll support the initiative, including Activision Blizzard, Bandai Namco, Bethesda, Bungie, EA, Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft, Warner Bros., and Wizards of the Coast. All of these announcements and statements, however, apply to consoles — not PCs. Valve updated DOTA 2 to show loot box disclosure data last year, but it hasn’t made disclosing this information mandatory for games on its platform. Neither have smaller game stores like Epic or GoG, at least not yet.

Battlefront-Pic

Use the First National Bank, Luke!

The goal is to roll this program out in 2020, but no timeline has been published. The goal seems to be to head off any effort at government regulation, similarly to how the ESRB was formed to avoid regulation of video game content. But simply publishing the chances of earning a reward may not be enough to head off accusations that loot boxes are gambling, and it may not be as clear-cut as a ratings system, either.

Here’s a simple example of what I mean. While reasonable people may differ about what constitutes acceptable nudity, a game either contains or does not contain naked humans. If you have a 5 percent chance of getting an “Epic” quality loot drop from a loot box, is that a chance to get any epic item, or the chance that you’ll get an epic item you don’t already have? If you earn a loot box in a specific game mode, will the loot be related to that game mode? Are people spending an in-game currency to win cosmetic items, or are they paying real money for random gear rolls that will impact their in-game performance? Are these percentages communicated in-game, when players are on the loot box purchase screen, or are they hidden in an old blog post that’s buried four links deep off the game’s main page? Does the game allow you to earn the currency with which you buy loot boxes in-game at a reasonable rate, or does it dispense it like pre-haunting Scrooge handing out Bob Crachit’s salary? Are the loot boxes being marketed aggressively to children as part of a children’s game, or are they in a title intended for adults who presumably understand something about the reality of credit card purchases? Are the items you win from loot boxes resellable on a market for real money, or are they locked to your specific character?

Readers and experts broadly agree that how these issues are handled has an impact on whether or not loot boxes cross the line between outright gambling versus an entertainment mechanism. A game with cosmetic loot box items that awards a modest number of crates through gameplay with the option to buy more is acceptable to a lot of people. A game like Battlefront II’s original incarnation (the actual game today has an entirely different and more standard loot distribution system) chained in-game performance entirely to random loot crates. The internet’s response? Convulsive rage. And while the internet’s rage spasms have a definite problematic side, gamers weren’t wrong to feel as if EA was planning to take advantage of them. It absolutely was.

Responses like this may take the wind from proposals to regulate loot boxes, at least in the United States, but just publishing statistics on your chances of getting a particular drop won’t answer the larger question of whether loot boxes constitute gambling or not. Honestly, I think that’s because the answer is “It depends.” In some cases, loot crates are basically an optional way to achieve a particular look. In others, they’ve been critical to succeeding in the title. It’s hard to argue that combining pay-to-win mechanics with randomized drops you pay real money to get isn’t very close to gambling, especially if the rare contents of the loot box can be sold for a substantial amount of real money in a market. At that point, a new digital hat is basically the equivalent of a Pick 5 card. Applying a rating to a video game is also a somewhat subjective endeavor, but it’s at least a subjective endeavor with some objective standards around concepts like nudity and foul language, which either do or do not exist in a game.

The question of whether loot crates constitute gambling and, if so, under which circumstances, will need to be fleshed out in greater detail — and hopefully we’ll see Valve, Epic, GoG, and other distributors take the same stance on mandatory chance disclosures. The fact that EA attempted to defend its loot box mechanism as “quite ethical surprise mechanics” earlier this year doesn’t make us optimistic that the video game industry actually understands how much players loathe these kinds of systems.

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FTC Toadies for Equifax, Begs Citizens to Register for Largely Worthless Credit Monitoring


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In theory, organizations like the FTC exist to safeguard United States citizens. In practice, all too often, these organizations are far more beholden to the companies they supposedly regulate than the citizens whose rights they protect. Last week, the FTC announced a settlement with Equifax, in which individuals whose data was stolen — that’s basically everyone in the United States — were eligible for $125 in compensation. Given the breadth and importance of the data Equifax allowed to be stolen, one might think that kind of minimal compensation would be the least the company could offer, given that it leaked social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, and names.

Now, however, the FTC has changed its tune. Far too many people have registered for the $125 settlement. Under the proposed settlement structure, only $31M has been set aside to provide these refunds. That translates to $125 for 248,000 people. The Equifax hack affected 147 million people. In other words, according to the FTC, only 0.16 percent of Americans were estimated to request $125. Now our government is begging its own citizens to accept near-worthless free credit monitoring (which costs Equifax literally nothing to provide) rather than asking for a tiny cash settlement in exchange for one of the most egregious database thefts of all time.

Just Buy It Pick Free Credit Report Monitoring

The FTC’s new blog post is headlined “Equifax data breach: Pick free credit report monitoring.” Robert Schoshinski, the Assistant Director, Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, writes:

The free credit monitoring is worth a lot more – the market value would be hundreds of dollars a year. And this monitoring service is probably stronger and more helpful than any you may have already, because it monitors your credit report at all three nationwide credit reporting agencies, and it comes with up to $1 million in identity theft insurance and individualized identity restoration services.

The FTC blog post does not note that the only reason the pool of cash for refunds is so small is the FTC deal with Equifax only allocates $31M to the relevant fund. While the agreement with Equifax included up to $425M to help victims of the breach, the overwhelming majority of the money is earmarked for other purposes. That’s dealt with in a separate press release. The government also doesn’t note that under the terms of the deal, it will be extremely difficult for anyone to prove an incidence of identity theft was tied to the Equifax database theft because that database has never been detected for sale on any hacking website. This implies it was stolen by a state actor rather than a conventional hacker.

Hurrah. R0ckH4rd69Lvr doesn’t have your data; Russia or China probably does. That’s vastly better.

Most financial websites do not agree with the FTC’s claim that free credit monitoring is worth “a lot more.” To quote Levar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Here’s a sampling of quotes and links on the topic:

NerdWallet: “NerdWallet recommends avoiding such offerings from credit bureaus.”
US News & World Report: “It’s of some value if you are a victim of identity theft, but its value is rather narrow.”
CNBC: “Credit monitoring services may not be worth the cost”
CNN Money: “Most of what these products provide you can easily do yourself, and for free.”
LendingTree: “The paid credit monitoring services won’t necessarily monitor your reports any better than a free service.”

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh captured the spirit of the issue far better in his comments about the settlement last week. Speaking about the ~147M victims of the Equifax hack, he noted: “Most of them—most of us—did not sign up… We did not choose Equifax,” Frosh said. “It chose us. It collected our personal information, it compiled it, analyzed that information, and sold the product and some of the raw data to other people. Their carelessness with our personal data will cause harm perhaps for millions of Americans.”

Slate’s argument, made last week, was that customers had a moral obligation to claim this funding, to send a message to Equifax and other companies about the critical importance of data security and to hold them accountable for failing to do so. Nobody chooses to do business with Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian. These institutions compile financial records and credit reports on Americans without consent, to provide global information about one’s credit history. There is no way to voluntarily withdraw from the system and credit checks are so important for so many life events, there would be little practical way for any but the richest Americans to do so.

Facebook got hit with a $5B fine for Cambridge Analytica, but Equifax is skating by with a $671M fine. According to the FTC, this was a deliberate decision to protect Equifax. “We want to make sure we don’t bankrupt the company or have them go out of business,” Maneesha Mithal, a data and privacy subject matter expert with the FTC, told Ars Technica. “We want to make sure they have the funds and resources to protect consumers going forward.”

Yes. Because nothing speaks to the importance of protecting consumers like a slap on the wrist when a company loses the data of 147 million Americans. Nothing promotes trust like the FTC publishing a shameful, toadying blog post declaring the value of worthless monitoring services that the company being fined can provide at no cost to itself.

Details on how to object to the settlement, should you wish to do so, are on the FAQ linked at the EquifaxBreachSettlement page. You cannot ask the Court to change the settlement, but you can advocate for it to be approved or denied. A $125 payment for a few million Americans was bad enough, but the government’s behavior in this case, not to mention the terms of the settlement itself, are both insulting.

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