YouTube Kids is here to protect all the children who can’t do basic math.
The current version of the kids app comes with a set of parental controls meant to ensure adults can both track what their children watch and set boundaries for age-appropriate content. The only problem is that the parental-control lock is easily bypassed. And yes, it’s so easy even a kid could do it.
YouTube has been accused of allowing disturbing content on its platform for years. Earlier this week, Google announced a new standalone YouTube Kids website and additional parental controls in an attempt to make its app more kid appropriate. Which, again, would be good if they weren’t so easily defeated.
At issue are two key points: YouTube Kids’ “content settings” and “clear history.” The app allows parents to decide what online content is appropriate for their precious bundle of joy in three categories: 4 and under, ages 5 to 7, and ages 8 to 12.
Once a parent decides this, a child is locked into that age group when using the app. Unless said child changes it, that is.
If a parent fails to set a custom password, the only impediment to a kid altering the “content settings” is their ability to smash buttons repeatedly. That’s because, as a parental check, the app asks the presumed parent to solve a basic math problem.
Even assuming a 7-year-old kid is unable to figure out “4 X 5 = ?” (a real example from the app), the app allows you to repeatedly enter the same number over and over again until it happens to be correct — thus letting you access a settings page where you can change the age restrictions.
The math problem to unlock YouTube Kids also changes every time you get it wrong and never locks you out. So if I pretend to be a kid who doesn’t know math and type the same number over and over again, it will still eventually unlock. pic.twitter.com/eVPYbJqJXQ
— Josh Billinson (@jbillinson) August 30, 2019
We tried this out and found it ridiculously easy to access the “locked” parental controls section. Once in, we could change our “content settings” to allow us to view additional material deemed suitable for older kids, or erase our watch history entirely to hide it from a theoretical concerned parent.
Somehow, we don’t think repeatedly entering random numbers into a phone is beyond the skill level of most kids.
Importantly, the app does allow parents to set a custom 4-digit PIN — and adults looking to protect their children from inappropriate content should definitely do so. However, perhaps an even better approach would be to not download YouTube Kids in the first place.