YouTube Kids

YouTube kids is an App based off the popular YouTube App, it’s focus is to provide video for children. It does this by filtering out any content that may be deemed unacceptable. The App has all its content filtered into four categories, these categories are, Shows, Music, Learning and Explore.

It should be noted that explore is not a search feature but is in fact a feature where any other videos that do not fit into the other categories are placed.

The App was originally only available on Android and IOS devices, but since then it has been released for LG, Samsung, Sony Smart TVs and Android TV. The App is currently region locked to specific regions if used in conjunction with Family-link, however this restriction can be easily bypassed with the use of a VPN which allow a user to present themselves as being in another location from the one which they currently reside. VPN’s also add a not insignificant layer of added protection as previously covered. It should be noted, as previously documented in our YouTube section, traffic on YouTube is encrypted by TSL encryption.  As YouTube Kids falls under the umbrella of YouTube, which itself falls under the umbrella of Google, this encryption extends to YouTube Kids.

YouTube kids does not require an account to be used, however to use all of the settings an account must be made (This account will automatically presume the user is 13 years old or younger). Although the use of accounts can be skipped, this will will not provide the maximum level of protection as it will not enable the use of Google Family-Link. The only accounts that are accepted are Google accounts, in contrast to the normal YouTube application, you are not able to upload videos through YouTube kids. You are also not able to make or read any comments on a video. This removes the potentially toxic environment of the YouTube parent App.

If you set up a Google account for your child, it will request the use of the App Family-Link, which has already been mentioned before, and due to Googles usage policy, this is a necessary requirement to achieve the maximum level of security and protection.

However, if you set up YouTube Kids with your own Google account, you can set up a child account on the YouTube Kids App, this child account is linked to your Google account, however this is less secure than setting up an account through Family link for reasons that were previously mentioned.

Figure 1

It should be noted that during the research of this App, a test child account was made using the name “Rory”, this account is not set up through Family link.

A second account was set up through Family link, this Family link was set up for a child of the age of 7 years old with the name ‘Example Username’.

YouTube Kids without Family-Link

Figure 2

When setting up the App in the beginning, it is requested that a parent sets up the application, it requests the parents age.

Figure 3

If the year provided is under the age of eighteen, then the App will ask for a simple multiplication. This multiplication question allows for multiple attempts and can be brute forced by simply guessing the answer.

Figure 4

After this step is completed, the parent is given an overview of what YouTube kids is and are shown a quick guide on blocking and reporting content, teaching the parent or user how to block content which they feel is unsuitable for a child to view.

Figure 5

It also requests if a child should be allowed to search for content on the App, or to only have access to suggested content. It is requested to add an adults account; however, this step can be skipped.

YouTube Kids with Family-Link

When it comes to a child having an account under the age of 13, they are not covered under the legal digital age of consent (which is now 16 in Ireland), and therefore the Google corporation cannot be held responsible for any unfortunate incidents that may happen as a result of using the App, with the addition of Family-Link you are able to take over the settings and restrict Apps to further attempt to prevent any unfortunate incidents from taking place.

YouTube Kids is one of the Apps that can be set up with a connection to Family-Link, however when it comes to settings, it becomes a lot more time consuming to set up. At the current time of developing this service, connecting Family-Link to YouTube Kids is not currently supported in the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom. If you attempt to set up YouTube Kids with Family Link, it’ll provide an error page that search settings cannot be established.

To get around this, connect yourself to the United States using a VPN, the one we are using in this scenario is ProtonVPN, this is a free App. A VPN is a program used to connect your device to a server which forwards all traffic to and from your device. This hides the users IP address and presents the VPN’s address as the users. This is an extra security layer we recommend in all cases, but for now, it’s only needed for this one step.

Many VPNs require setting up an account to use, this is easy to set up, however when it comes to setting up YouTube Kids with Family-Link already installed, it requires the use of the chrome browser to set up a ProtonVPN account, which is automatically blocked by the Family Link App on the child’s device, a solution to this is to unblock Google Chrome, or to set up a ProtonVPN account on a computer.

Once an account is created, you can set your location by scrolling down to the United States on the country’s menu, or you can select the US on the map view, this will select an IP from the US. Making it appear that you are connected from the United States, or any other country that is covered by the Family-Link YouTube Kids pairing.

Figure 6 Selecting your region via ProtonVPN

With all these set up, you should be able to set up YouTube Kids.

When opening the YouTube Kids for the first time, the first prompt is to sign in with the parents account, instructing that the App must be set up by an adult, when a parent has entered their details, they are prompted for the child’s age set, the two being younger, which is for 8 years and under, while Older would be between 8 to 12 years old.

Figure 7

YouTube Kids Features without Family Link

To access the settings on this App, there is a button on the bottom left of the main menu, when you press this options button, you are greeted with a mathematical question in order to prove that you are old enough (as previously mentioned, this can be brute forced). There is also the option to set your own 4-digit pass-code.

Figure 8

After entering in the correct answer, you are given three options; Settings, Timer and Feedback.

Figure 9

The timer allows for the parent to set an amount of time that their child can use the App, allowing a parent to regulate how long the child use the App. The second option is the settings menu.

Figure 10

In the settings menu, it gives you the ability to modify your child’s account, this section allows you to choose if your child can search with his or her account, allow for only content that you approve of to be viewed, to clear the watch history which will as a result reset your recommended videos, and to pause your child’s history, as to stop recommended videos based on your child’s video history. To access this section, you must provide your Google Account password.

Figure 11

It also allows for your child to put a secret code onto their account, so no one else can access their account. Other options in the menu is the add/change or delete the parental password and to unblock all videos.

Figure 12

When the Approved Content only option is activated, you are led to a section where you can choose content that you find appropriate, the content is selected by groups that is based on themes, you can choose particular channels from these sections.

Figure 13

This can be useful to parents who wish to block any content the parent wishes for their child not to see. There is a second menu within the kids’ section on the top left by clicking the user’s icon, this section does not require a password. This section has menus that were available in the other section, but they are not guarded by a password.

Figure 14

If there is a video that your child has come across that you find unsuitable, you are able to block they video by selecting the three dots to the top right of the video and select the block feature.

Figure 15

When blocking a channel, you are given the option of blocking the whole channel or just the video.

Figure 16

When it comes to unblocking the video, you are unable to individual videos, when it comes to unblocking videos, you must unblock all channels that was blocked.

Figure 17

YouTube Kids Features with Family Link

Many of the features are left unchanged with the addition of Family Link, one major change however is that when attempting to access the settings, you are prompted to enter the parent’s password instead of asking for an age or a multiplication.

After putting in the password the first time, it does not prompt for a password again, that can be considered hazardous due to the possibility of a child being able to accidentally get access to the account’s settings. However, all the management of settings have been moved to the Family-Link App, and any settings that have been left behind can be reversed through the Family-Link App.

The settings that were originally accessible through the YouTube Kids App, are available by going into the Family Link App, selecting Manage settings, going to the more section at the bottom and selecting YouTube Kids on this menu.

 

Figure 18

Some features remain on the YouTube Kids settings, most importantly is the ability to change the privacy settings on the App, the main problem with this is that due to the App no longer requiring a password for a parent, a child can easily stumble upon this setting.

Figure 19

Depending on your settings on Family-Link, you can prevent a child from having the ability to prevent these settings been changed. If this feature is set that the child can edit settings, the parent will receive a notification that these settings have been changed, and are able to override these settings, through Family-Link App. This greatly reduces the risk of any setting changes made on the childs device.

When it comes to handpicking videos that a child can watch, this setting seems to disappear. We contacted Family-Link in order to question where this ability had gone, they had replied by telling us that it is located within the YouTube Kids section within Manage Settings, however upon inspection of this setting area, we could not find the content settings as suggested, even after re-downloading with a VPN set to the United States, we were still unable to access the feature.

However, you are still able to block videos and channels individually, however the unblock features have been moved onto Family-Link, in the YouTube Kids section.

YouTube Kids' Security Options

Managing of inappropriate content (Reporting, blocking)

Manage Search and Watch History

Manage content (Specify what content is allowed specifically)

Manage search functions

How to apply these options

When it comes to accessing these settings without Family-Link, many settings are restricted by a password from your google account. When Family Link is enabled, most of these settings can be found on the Family-Link App.

Figure 20

In this area, it is suggested to enable Approval Content Only within the ‘my kids’ section, picking only particular channels which you deem acceptable. This section can be found in the settings section on the App, when it is not connected to Family-Link. When it is connected to Family-Link, the setting does not appear, as previously mentioned, we have emailed Google addressing this matter, to which they replied it’s a US only feature and that it could be accessed by going to the YouTube Kids section in Manage settings in Family Link. This does not appear to be the case, as even the use of VPN did not allow us to access this feature.

It is recommended to disable the search ability, as to prevent a child from searching unsuitable content, this setting can also be found in the settings section on the YouTube Kids App.

Figure 21

When the App is being used in conjunction with Family-Link, this option can be found within the parental section of Family-Link.

Figure 22

It is also recommended for parents to allow a child to add a secret password onto their account as to give heightened security on the device, making sure that only you and your child have knowledge of this password.

Figure 23

This ability is only available when there is no Family-Link connected to the device. However, this is understandable due to the heightened chance that this is in fact the child’s own device, and thus does not need this feature, compared to if there was no Family-Link, where there is a possibility it is on the parent’s device.

YouTube Kids Best Practice Settings Guide

After reviewing the settings, we’ve set up a best practice guide for YouTube Kids, with and without the use of Family Link, in order to be able to better protect a child’s use of YouTube Kids in both scenarios:
Enable Approved Content only – If you don’t have Family Link, This feature allows you to set what content your child can view in YouTube Kids. It also disables the ability for a child to search on the app

  • Enable Secret Code 
    If you don’t have Family Link, It is suggested for your child to be able to set up a secret code for themselves and have it so they share the secret code with only yourself.
  • Disable the Search Ability
    It is suggested to disable the ability for the child to be able to search on the platform. This can be done through Family link, or on YouTube kids if you don’t have Family Link.
  • Block Inappropriate channels
    It is suggested to block any channels which is seen as unsuitable for children, this is the only step available to tailor content watched due to the disappearance of handpicking suitable channels.

YouTube Kids safety rating

Figure 24

Reflections on YouTube Kids

Regarding YouTube Kids, we must first ask the question should we use Google Family-Link? This would depend on which device we are referring to. If we are referring to the parent’s device then it would not be necessary (however in this case, maximum settings should be applied to YouTube Kids). However, if we are referring to the child’s device we do strongly recommend the use of Google Family-Link.

When it comes to having the App without Family-Link, a lot of options are left open, that can be accessed by a child if they are able to get past the maths-based question, which as previously mentioned can be brute forced. This is still considered a safer option than the YouTube parent option where the options simply don’t exist.

However, there are some features that disappear once the Family-Link App is installed, like the ability to handpick channels that a child can watch, instead leaving with the ability to block videos and channels (which is also available without Family-Link).

When it comes down to it, if you have a separate device for your child, setting up YouTube Kids with Family Link is recommended. But if the YouTube Kids App is also present on your device, then it is suggested to use the App restrictive settings already available on your own device, as the use of Family-Link on your own device will deactivate many features. In this case, parental supervision is recommended.

When it comes to a comparison between YouTube and YouTube kids, we find that YouTube kids is less likely to allow for access to inappropriate content. While the algorithms are not perfect and are susceptible to manipulation, it is less likely to offer ease of access to inappropriate content. This provides a greater level of peace of mind for parents. The lack for commenting on the platform makes the platform far less toxic than its parent application, YouTube.

The ability for a child not restricted by family to create a YouTube kids account that is restricted to YouTube kids and does not fall under the google umbrella vastly decreases the online visibility of the child, the footprint left by the child any potential access a predator may have through the use of a google account. While our group does feel that YouTube kids combined with family-link is the more secure option, YouTube kids is felt to be a relatively safe app.

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