Should I be concerned about the ads my kid sees on YouTube?
Is there anything more annoying than those ads that appear all over the videos your kids watch on YouTube? Typically, an ad plays before the video, then more pop up all over the clip itself. You find yourself clicking them away instead of enjoying the show. And the ads are usually for age-inappropriate stuff, such as cars, web services, mature movies, and junk food. Most annoying, it seems that there's no end to the types of ads that can fit into a tiny video. Should you be concerned that your kids see these ads on YouTube?
Research on the negative impact of commercial content on kids has mostly focused on TV and movie advertising. But some small, early studies of the effect of digital marketing on kids shows a clear impact on everything from their understanding of money to exposure to alcohol ads to their privacy. Plus, "targeted" ads -- the ones that are based on a user's data trail and that YouTube aims to display -- are more influential than general ones. And kids under 7 don't understand that ads are trying to sell them something -- which is why commercials are regulated on TV.
A lot of folks are complaining that YouTube ads are out of control. In addition to the ones that play before the video, called bumpers, there are skippable ads, nonskippable ads, sponsorships, banners, and annotations that all appear at random while the video plays. The thing is, while YouTube controls some ads on videos, it's actually the clip's creator who controls the type and number of ads you see on individual videos. Creators make money off those ads -- and some say the more the merrier. Tons of ads is actually one sign of poor quality. You can't turn off ads on YouTube, but you can manage how much commercial content your kids are exposed to. Try these tips:
Personalize your ads. YouTube tries to tailor its ads to users' interests, activities, age, and other factors, and it would rather show you ads for stuff you'd like to see since they're more effective. In your Google Account settings, under Personal Info & Privacy, click on Ads Settings. Then click on Manage Ads Settings. Here you can "personalize" ads by telling Google what topics you don't want to see and what topics you like. Over time, your ads across all Google properties, including search, should be more to your liking. This has privacy implications, but at least you can avoid a lot of age-inappropriate ads.
Subscribe to YouTube Premium. Similar to other online video streaming services such as Hulu, YouTube Premium offers ad-free videos on the main site and YouTube Kids for a monthly fee. It will still show some ads, but not the annoying, invasive ones.
Stick to well-known, quality creators. YouTube gives its creators a monetary incentive to show personalized ads. But creators can disable this option. Higher-quality creators, including known brands such as Sesame Street, show fewer ads. (Look for the check mark next to a creator's name to make sure it is the brand you think it is.)
Use YouTube Kids. The advertising in the YouTube Kids app is limited. Google says the ads that run on YouTube Kids are approved as family-friendly and don't contain click-throughs to other sites. But consumer watchdog organizations have objected to the app running ads at all. And some of the content on YouTube kids -- like the popular unboxing videos -- are really ads themselves.
Consider an ad blocker. These downloadable browser add-ons will block some but not all advertising.