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YouTube and Snapchat were asked to defend their apps’ ratings in the Senate hearing – TechCrunch

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YouTube and Snapchat have been asked by lawmakers to defend whether their respective social media apps have received appropriate ratings in the U.S. app stores given the nature of the content they hosted. In a survey led by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Snap was given specific examples of the types of content found on its app that seemed inappropriate to younger teenagers. Both companies were also asked to explain why their app was rated for different age groups in the different app stores.

For example, the YouTube app is rated “Teen” in the Google Play Store, which means that the content is suitable for children aged 13 and over, while the same app is rated “17+” in the Apple App Store, which means that the content is only for users 17 years and over, stressed the senator.

Leslie Miller, YouTube vice president of government and public order, who attended the hearing on YouTube’s behalf, responded that she was “unfamiliar with the differences” the senator had just outlined in his question.

Snapchat’s Vice President of Global Public Policy, Jennifer Stout, wasn’t sure of the discrepancy either when she asked the same question.

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

The inconsistency in app ratings can make it difficult for parents to decide whether an app is actually suitable for their kids, based on how strict their own household rules are for such things. Ultimately, however, the problem is that each platform has different app rating guidelines. And since app store reviews don’t necessarily match similar reviews in other industries like film and television, today parents often turn to third-party resources like Common Sense Media, news articles, online guides, or even anecdotal advice when deciding whether or not their children are allowed to use a certain app.

Lee has pushed this point especially on Snapchat. He said his staff entered a name, date of birth and email address to create a trial account for a 15-year-old child. You haven’t added any other content settings to the account.

“When they opened the Discover page on Snapchat with their default settings, they were immediately bombarded with content that I can politely call absolutely inappropriate for a child, including recommendations for, among other things, an invitation to play a sexualized online video game.” that’s marketed for people 18+; Tips on Quotes, “Why You Shouldn’t Go To Bars Alone” Tips for Video Games 17+; and articles about porn stars, ”said Lee.

He wanted to know how Snap found this content to be suitable for younger teens based on the app’s rating in the app stores.

Stout responded that Snapchat’s Discover section is a closed platform where the company selects publishers.

“We choose – and choose – the partners we work with. And that’s the type of content that we want to appear on Discover and reach audiences aged 13 and over, ”she explained. Stout also seemed surprised that Discover contained the kind of inappropriate content the Senator had described. “I want to make it clear that content and community guidelines suggest that all online sex video games should be limited to ages 18 or older,” Stout said, adding that it was “unclear” why they are shown by default to younger users become Original.

She went on to say that Snap’s editorial policies state that the content must be accurate and fact-checked.

Lee’s response suggested that he thought she missed the point.

“I’m sure the articles about the porn stars have been checked for accuracy and fact,” he barked back. “And I’m sure the tips on why you shouldn’t go to bars alone are correct and fact-checked, but that’s not my question. It’s about whether it’s suitable for ages 13+ as you certified it, ”he said.

The senator’s questions stem from parents ‘persistent moral panic about teenagers’ use of social media – panics that have particularly affected Snapchat, with its ephemerality prepared for teen sexting.

However, the backlash to inappropriate Discover content has spurred Snapchat in the past to take action – before going public, of course.

The company said in 2017 it would begin to take a tougher stance on the kind of risky and misleading images that had overrun the Discover section by introducing updated guidelines for editors, which Stout also referred to during the hearing. But user reviews of the app over the following years have indicated that Snapchat’s news section is filled with what some young people have described: “terrifying content” and “nonsense” or “gossip, sex and drugs”.

“The site is powered by clickbait, reality TV news, and influencer fodder, with a few TV stations and reputable news publishers including ESPN, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal,” a Vox report said in June 2021. “Users complain that they are often served tabloid-like content via influencers that they don’t care about, or nonsensical clickbaits that are best described as“ internet junk ”,” it says.

This is likely the type of content the Senator’s team stumbled upon, too.

Of course, Snap has the right to curate any type of publishing content it wants – but the question here is how well does it actually curate and age the content when it comes to younger teenage users, and whether that’s something that are better regulated by law and not just left to the companies themselves to the police.

“What kind of oversight are you doing here?” Asked Lee of Snap’s curation of Discover.

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

(As an aside, reporters know exactly how this is often the reaction of a large tech company when faced with a direct example that contradicts their guidelines. They want the journalists to do the moderation for them by pointing out the specific issues They will then go over and block or remove the hurtful pieces in question, while downplaying the examples as isolated cases that they just accidentally missed – instead of acknowledging that this might be an example of a systemic situation with Snap per se, but the tactic of looking shocked and surprised and then demanding to know the examples is well known.)

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

But Lee, whose questions echo those of parents who believe that age-inappropriate content is actually hurtful, would likely disagree with this assessment.

“These app ratings are inappropriate,” concluded Lee. “We all know that there is content on Snapchat and YouTube, among others, that is not suitable for children from 12 or 13 years of age.”

In a separate series of surveys led by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Snap was also asked whether advertisers in Snapchat Discover understood what content they were placed next to.

Stout said they did.

TikTok was not asked about the nature of its content or its age rating on the App Store by Lee, but later found in the hearing in response to Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) that its content was curated for younger users with the help of Common Sense Networks and is “an age-appropriate experience”.

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