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YouTube discontinues private messages to focus on keeping things public

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The feature only launched in 2017

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

YouTube is shutting down its private messaging feature on September 18th, the company announced in a support post. It said it made the decision after choosing to focus its attention on public conversations, like the Stories feature it launched last year. YouTube launched its in-app messaging feature back in August 2017, meaning it will have been live on the service for just over two years before being discontinued.

YouTube didn’t say exactly why it’s deprioritizing private conversations, but TechCrunch has a couple of ideas. First is the fact that Google has always had a problem with having too many messaging apps. Even after discontinuing Allo, Google still lets people communicate over Duo, Hangouts, Meet, Google Voice, and Android Messages (including the new RCS protocol). Having one extra private messaging service that (presumably) few people were using risks confusing matters further.

The second potential reason comes from the over 700 comments underneath Google’s announcement, which TechCrunch notes seem to include posts from dozens from children who were using the messaging feature to get around parental bans on other messaging apps.

YouTube’s children’s content has been a huge problem for it in recent years. The platform had to disable comments on almost all videos featuring children, and it has reportedly considered removing all children’s content from the site entirely due to predatory comments that were being posted under them.

In this context, YouTube’s decision to bring private messaging to an end starts to look like less of a reorganization and more of an attempt to avoid future controversies. Its new features, like YouTube Stories, are almost excessively public. For example, if a creator responds to a fan’s interaction with their story, then the comment is visible for all to see. YouTube doesn’t seem to want to take the risk of allowing private messages on its service when it’s had such high-profile examples of predatory users on its platform in the past.

In the future, YouTube says that you can use its “Share” feature to send a video privately to a friend — unless your parents have banned you from using other messaging apps, of course.