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YouTube and Snapchat urged to defend age of apps in Senate hearing – TechCrunch

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YouTube and Snapchat were urged by lawmakers to defend whether their respective social media apps were rated correctly on U.S. app stores, given the nature of the content they hosted. In a series of questions led by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Snap was given specific examples of the types of content found on its app that seemed inappropriate for young teens. The two companies were also asked to explain why their app would be rated for different age groups on the different app stores.

For example, the YouTube app on Google Play Store is rated “Teen”, which means its content is appropriate for ages 13 and up, while the same app on Apple’s App Store is rated “17+”. Which means that the content is only suitable for users aged 17 and over, the senator pointed out.

Leslie Miller, vice president of government affairs and public policy for YouTube, who attended the hearing on behalf of YouTube, responded that she was “not familiar with the differences” the senator had just pointed out with his question.

Snapchat’s vice president of global public policy, Jennifer Stout, was also unsure of the gap when asked the same question.

In the case of Snapchat, the app is rated 12 and over on the Apple App Store, but is rated “Teen” (13 and over) on the Google Play Store. She said she thought it was because the content on Snapchat was deemed “appropriate for an age group of 13 and over.”

The inconsistency with app ratings can make it difficult for a parent to decide whether an app is, in fact, appropriate for their children, based on the stringency of their own household rules on this sort of thing. But the problem ultimately comes down to the fact that each platform has different policies regarding app ratings. And because app store ratings don’t necessarily match similar ratings in other industries, like film and television, parents today often turn to third-party resources, like Common Sense Media. , newspaper articles, online guides or even anecdotal advice. , when they decide whether or not to allow their children to use a certain application.

Lee pushed on this point with Snapchat in particular. He said his staff entered a name, date of birth and email to create a testing account for a 15-year-old. They haven’t added any additional content preferences to the account.

“When they opened the Discover page on Snapchat with its default settings, they were immediately bombarded with content that I can very politely describe as extremely inappropriate for a child, including recommendations for, among other things, an invitation to play. an online sexualized video game. it is itself marketed to people aged 18 and over; advice on the quote, “why you shouldn’t go to bars alone; »Reviews for rated video games for ages 17 and over; and articles on pornstars, ”Lee said.

He wanted to know how Snap determined that this content was appropriate for young teens, according to the app’s rating on app stores.

Stout responded by saying that Snapchat’s Discover section was a closed platform where the company chooses editors.

“We select and hand select the partners with whom we work. And this type of content is designed to appear on Discover and resonate with audiences 13 and older, ”she explained. Stout also seemed surprised that Discover included the type of inappropriate content described by the senator. “I want to make it clear that the content and community guidelines suggest that all online sex video games should be restricted to the age of 18 and over,” Stout said, adding that she “didn’t know” why they would be displayed by default for a younger defaulting user.

She went on to note that Snap’s publisher guidelines state that content should be accurate and verified.

Lee’s response indicated that he thought she was missing the point.

“I’m sure the porn star articles were correct and verified,” he barked back. “And I’m sure the advice on why you shouldn’t go bars alone is correct and verified, but that’s not my question.” It’s a question of whether it is suitable for children 13 and over, as you have certified, ”he said.

The senator’s questions point to the ongoing moral panics of parents over teenage social media use – panics that have particularly affected Snapchat with its transience ready for sexting among teens.

However, the backlash over Discover’s inappropriate content has actually prompted Snapchat to take action in the past – before its IPO, of course.

The company said in 2017 that it would start taking a tougher line on the kind of risky and deceptive images that have invaded the Discover section by implementing an updated set of guidelines for publishers, to which Stout also added. refers during the hearing. But reviews of users of the app in the years since have pointed out that Snapchat’s news section is full, as some young people have described it: “newsworthy content” and “nonsense”. or “gossip, sex and drugs”.

The page is fueled by click bait, reality TV news and influencer fodder, with a handful of reputable TV networks and news editors including ESPN, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, “a Vox report said in June 2021.” Users complain that they frequently receive tabloid-like content about influencers they don’t care about, or nonsensical click traps that are best described as’ garbage Internet ”, he declared.

This is probably the kind of content the Senator’s team stumbled upon as well.

Of course, Snap has the right to manage any type of publisher content it wants – but the question here arises as to how well it organizes and limits the age of content when it comes to of its young teenage users and if this is something that should be better regulated by law, and not just left to the companies themselves to the police.

“What kind of monitoring are you doing on this?” Lee wanted to know about Snap’s Discover curation.

“We use a variety of human reviews as well as automated reviews,” Stout said, adding that Snap would be interested in speaking to its staff to find out what type of content they saw that violated its guidelines.

(By the way, reporters are well aware of how this is often the response a large tech company will give when faced with a direct example of something that contradicts their guidelines. They want reporters to do the job. moderation for them by detailing the specific issues. They will then follow up and block or remove the violation items in question while minimizing the one-off examples that they accidentally missed – instead of acknowledging that this could be an example of a problem. systemic situation with Snap, per se, but the tactic of acting shocked and surprised and then demanding to know the examples is familiar.)

“While I agree with you, tastes vary when it comes to the type of content promoted on Discover, but there is no illegal content. There is no content that is hurtful, ”Stout said.

But Lee, whose questions mirror those of parents who think age-inappropriate content is, in fact, hurtful, would likely disagree with that assessment.

“These app reviews are inappropriate,” concluded Lee. “We all know there is content on Snapchat and on YouTube, among many other places, that is not suitable for children 12 or 13 and over.”

In a separate line of research led by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Snap also asked whether or not Snapchat Discover advertisers understood the type of content they were placed next to.

Stout said they did.

TikTok was not asked by Lee about the nature of its content or the age of its app store, but later during the hearing he noted, in response to Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM ), that its content for young users was curated with the help of Common Sense Networks and is “an age-appropriate experience”.

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