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Several major companies, including AT&T, Nestle, and Epic Games, are pulling advertisements from YouTube after their ads appeared in videos rife with comments by alleged paedophiles. Radio Sputnik has discussed the issue with Yair Cohen, a social media lawyer with Cohen Davis Solicitors, a UK-based law firm.
Sputnik: I can't really believe that this is the first time this kind of incident has happened. I am sure there are historical events that have happened with regard to this kind of comments within the channel, but maybe this is the first time where really large companies have got involved, such as Nestle. Have you got any further comment on that?
Yair Cohen: Indeed. Let's stop pretending that Google knew nothing about this type of fact. In fact, I will go further to say that YouTube or, in fact, Google, who owns YouTube, is completely responsible for the situation that places young children and even babies at risk. To understand Google's culpability we need to look at Google's age policy in relation to YouTube and in relation to Google's mobile phone operating system Android, which accounts to about 80 percent of new mobile phone sales. Starting with YouTube's age policy, this is very, very important and not many people understand this, Google officially says that YouTube users must be either 18 years old or 13 years old provided to have parents' permission to use YouTube. Of course, at the same time, Google promotes only videos, toys, other adverts, which are targeted at children much younger than 13 [years old]. Some of the videos and adverts are as clearly targeted at babies who are as young as 1 [year old]. Google knows very well that a huge amount of its users are under the age of 13; it knows this because it targets them with money-making adverts. But despite this, Google has persistently refused to install any form of parental control on either YouTube or on its Android system. In fact, to be able to use an Android mobile phone, Google says you must be 13 years old, but everybody knows that children as young as 4,5,6, 7, 8, 9, 10 [years old] have got mobile telephones and Google knows this as well. So these children, in order to be able to use the mobile phones, for the parents to allow the children to use the mobile phone, they must log in to the phone by creating a fake Google account, effectively faking the child's age, and Google cannot pretend that it doesn't know that there are children who are using its mobile phones. Now, what happens, because the parents have to put in a fake age, sometimes children do that, and then the child is being exposed to all sorts of risks on YouTube, including adult content, risks of grooming, pornography — all sorts of things. So, Google is effectively pretending that it has not got any users that are under 13 and therefore, there is no need to protect the children. And without parental controls on YouTube and on its Android phone system, Google is exposing those children, our children, to very serious harm [and] sexual, emotional [content], and you know what, sometimes even physical harm. Google is hiding behind its "over 13" policy, yet it lures children to come and watch baby stuff, to be manipulated by YouTubers. Now those YouTubers, we don't know who they are, they are being paid huge amounts of money by Google to promote videos, but Google knows that some of these YouTubers are targeting very young children. They sometimes manipulate them. Some of these YouTubers might be sex offenders, might be paedophiles, might be all sorts of people, they are not vetted at all. This is one of the greatest scandals of this century and I think that is absolutely correct and right for those companies to say: "you know what? We want nothing to do with you anymore". And it is a very courageous thing to do.
Sputnik: From your point of view, how could the inappropriate user activity be regulated? That is the key question for media platforms, including YouTube. From this point of view, they could basically disable all comments, but how [could] they actually police that in terms of different age groups? I am struggling to think of how they could do that, but, from your point of view, how would you regulate it?
Yair Cohen: Well, it is difficult to restrict age groups when Google pretends that all its users are either 18 or over the age of 13. So, the first thing that needs to be done, Google now needs to be compelled to allow users of any age to log in to Google accounts and log in to the telephone systems Android and to YouTube. Then Google has to do the right thing, the same thing that Microsoft did and Apple, and install parental controls so parents can restrict the use of certain videos of certain websites on the children's mobile phone. At the moment, a child, because they have to fake their age, they are able to see anything and everything. So, yes, removing a few users, a few comments from YouTube is great, but this is really a pretending that the problem doesn't exist; it is just not enough.
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