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New YouTube Terms of Service Create Stir

By John P. Mello Jr.
Nov 12, 2019 10:25 AM PT
updates to youtube's terms of service agreement have sparked fears among users

Google has published changes to YouTube's Terms of Service Agreement that have stoked fears among some users. The new terms take effect Dec. 10.

One controversial provision addresses YouTube's hosting responsibilities.

"Content is the responsibility of the person or entity that provides it to the Service," states the new policy. "YouTube is under no obligation to host or serve Content."

Another section, Terminations by YouTube for Service Changes, has creators in an uproar.

"YouTube may terminate your access, or your Google account's access to all or part of the Service if YouTube believes, in its sole discretion, that provision of the Service to you is no longer commercially viable," the new ToSA states.

Many creators are deeply concerned over the prospect of YouTube changing its practices.

"A lot of people on the service make a living on it," noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, an advisory services firm in Bend, Ore.

"I don't think Google gets that," he told TechNewsWorld. "When you're dealing with people's income, you not only have to be straight with them, but you have to be careful about decisions that affect that income. You need empathy, and that empathy seems to be lacking in the company."

YouTube's latest changes make the agreement more transparent and easy to understand, noted spokesperson Ivy Choi, "all pretty standard practice."

"We made some changes to our Terms of Service in order to make them easier to read and to ensure they're up to date," YouTube said in a statement Choi provided to TechNewsWorld. "We're not changing the way our products work, how we collect or process data, or any of your settings. We're also not changing how we work with creators, nor their rights over their works, or their right to monetize."

Twitter Reaction

Social media reactions to the news were mostly unfavorable.

Liam Shackhorn tried to apply a cool compress on the fevered responses of his fellow Twitter users.

External and Internal Motivators

These changes are both externally and internally motivated, maintained Karen North, director of the Annenberg Program on Online Communities at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

"They're responding to the regulatory environment and also to problems that have evolved over time that they needed to fix," she told TechNewsWorld.

Google and YouTube recently paid a record US$170 million to settle allegations that it illegally collected personal information from children without their parents' consent.

In a complaint filed against the companies, the Federal Trade Commission and New York attorney general alleged that YouTube violated federal law by collecting personal information -- in the form of persistent identifiers that are used to track users across the Internet -- from viewers of child-directed channels, without first notifying parents and getting their consent.

YouTube earned millions of dollars by using the identifiers, commonly known as "cookies," to deliver targeted ads to viewers of the channels, according to the complaint.

The new Terms of Service Agreement includes updates defining parent responsibility on YouTube and clarifications about age requirements.

"Whether it's big digital platforms or traditional brick-and-mortar companies, sometimes companies need to change their rules in order to make sure they have the right to respond to problems that they've identified," North said.

Power Play

What the ToSA changes do for YouTube is give it a more clearcut right to intervene when problems arise, North said.

"They've put themselves in a position to make a unilateral decision to remove content or even accounts," she noted.

In doing that, YouTube opens itself to criticism of censorship or favoritism, North suggested.

"They probably weighed the pros and cons between being the land of freedom of speech, or the land of taking more responsibility for content and users -- still without being a publisher or creator," she added. "This gives them an easier way to take action on content that is offensive, or accounts that are fake or manipulative."

The changes also send a message to users about freedom of speech.

"Digital platforms are not town halls or public squares," North observed. "They're not subject to First Amendment rights."

With the changes in the ToSA, YouTube is asserting its right to be the final arbiter of what appears on its service, she continued. "They're saying let's be clear and simple about our rules and our rights as owners of the platform."

Although YouTube added language in the ToSA about commercial viability, North believes the service is less worried about money than power.

"I don't think a creator's profitability is their concern," she said. "I think they're talking about their right to intervene when there's a problem."


John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.


How do you feel about government regulation of the U.S. tech industry?
Big tech companies are abusing their monopoly power and must be reined in.
Stronger regulations to protect consumer data definitely are needed.
Regulations stifle innovation and should be kept to the barest minimum.
Over-regulation could give China and other nations an unfair advantage.
Outdated antitrust laws should be updated prior to serious regulatory efforts.
Tech companies should regulate themselves to avoid government intervention.
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