From toy unboxings to gaming videos, kids spend a lot of time watching YouTube videos. But if two Democratic senators get their way, YouTube and other companies could be forced to completely overhaul their children’s content ecosystems.
The Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act was introduced by Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on Thursday; if approved, the bill would force companies like YouTube and TikTok to completely change how they treat children’s content on their platforms. Everything from ads, app design, and some kinds of harmful content would see new limitations when a child under the age of 16 uses the platform.
“Today, kids’ faces are increasingly covered in the glow of their screens, and it’s time to face the chilling reality that some websites and apps are built in ways that harm children,” Markey said. “Powerful companies push kids to buy products at every turn online, and top platforms are saturated with disturbing content that no kid should ever be exposed to.”
The bill takes particular aim at unboxing videos, which are wildly popular on YouTube. An unboxing video from Ryan’s World, one of the most popular children’s YouTube channels, can get anywhere from a few hundred thousand to millions of views each. The KIDS Act wouldn’t ban this content but would prohibit YouTube from recommending it to children, which would hugely limit its distribution on the platform.
The senators also target the design of websites and apps that are targeted to children. If approved, the bill would ban companies from using autoplay features, like automatically loading a new video once the current one finishes playing. The design ban would extend to push alerts or achievements that incentivize kids to stay on the platform for longer periods of time.
Markey, a co-author of this bill, was the original champion of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (or COPPA), which is now one of the pivotal privacy protections for children on the internet. Because of COPPA, it is unlawful for website operators to collect the data of children under the age of 13, causing ongoing compliance concerns for social networks. Most recently, the Federal Trade Commission fined YouTube and TikTok millions of dollars for COPPA violations. Markey has also worked to expand the law with tech hawk Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) in a new bill coined COPPA 2.0 that would raise the age threshold to cover children under the age of 15.
“Big Tech has designed their platforms to ensnare and exploit children for more likes, more views, and more purchases,” Blumenthal said. “The KIDS Act puts guardrails in place to reign in recklessness of marketers and Big Tech – protecting children and giving parents some peace of mind.”
YouTube put in place new restrictions on content aimed at children earlier this year in the wake of its FTC settlement. The restrictions prohibit conventional ad targeting for any video aimed at children, which has significantly reduced ad revenue for the channels involved. The result has put many YouTube creators in a difficult situation, one that could grow even worse if the KIDS Act is approved.