YouTube showed up in the news this week for a couple different reasons, both of them revolving around their additional services. YouTube TV has received an update that makes it more accessible, while it’s been reported YouTube Kids will become a little more trustworthy in the future.
YouTube TV will now be able to be watched in the Firefox browser, says TechCrunch. It was previously only available for Chrome users, keeping things in the Google family. But as promised, it’s begun to expand. Firefox is a massively popular browser, so it should make things a little easier for some people.
YouTube TV, which I wrote about last year, is a live TV service with a monthly fee. The service is $40 a month and offers more than 50 networks for live streaming. It can be used by multiple people with their own DVRs, and recordings are stored in their unlimited cloud storage, so you don’t have to worry about flipping through other peoples’ recordings or running out of space. Now that YouTube TV is available on Firefox, we’ll see how long it takes to reach other popular browsers.
Meanwhile, BuzzFeed News is reporting that, according to their source, YouTube Kids will be coming out with a different version of their app that may ease parents’ concerns about what their kids are watching. YouTube Kids uses algorithms to decide what shows up for kids to watch, and it has famously accidentally showed children videos that were upsetting to parents. BuzzFeed News specifically mentions conspiracy videos that have been appearing on YouTube Kids, even flat earth videos, as well as videos with age-inappropriate content.
The new app (which wouldn’t replace the current app but would simply be a new option) would only include videos from sources that were approved by YouTube, BuzzFeed News says. This would add a human element to the decision-making process. Parents would be able to feel a little more comfortable with their kids using the app—they wouldn’t have to worry about the algorithm missing something.
BuzzFeed News also mentions their source said this new app could be released within weeks, though it hasn’t been confirmed by YouTube yet.
On Wednesday, 6/21, Snap Chat rolled out a new feature called Snap Map, and it has some parents nervous.
Snap Map allows people on your friend list to see your photos superimposed over a map, which allows them to know your location, and possibly where you live, go to school, etc. Considering that many Snap Chat users are pretty young, some parents are understandably concerned about predators and stalkers being able to use the app to track their children.
How is Snap Map meant to be used?
Snap Chat has described Snap Map as “a new way to explore the world,” and with the popularity of real-world interactive media like Pokemon Go, it makes sense that other media companies would want to explore new formats. People are curious about how other people live, and what things are like in other locations, which is easy to see in the popular hobby of using Google Street View to explore remote locations. The company also describes Snap Map as an easy way to meet up with friends in a crowded location, and the trend of apps that encourage more activity and face-to-face interaction can’t be all bad. Facebook’s Live Location feature (available thorough Messenger) will likely be competing with Snap Map.
Snap Map could also help people see where an event (like a concert or festival) is happening by showing a “heat map”—a location where a lot of people are Snapping.
What privacy policies are in place?
The company stresses that the Snap Map feature does not activate unless the user goes into the settings and turns it on, and that even then, only people on the user’s friend list has access to their location. Users can also adjust their own privacy settings to further limit who sees their location. However, after the update, a tutorial will play when the app is opened to ask if you want to turn on the new feature. Someone pushing buttons without reading the details might accidentally broadcast their location without realizing it. The app notifies your friends of your location every time you open the app—not just when you send a Snap—so it’s like walking around with a bug in your pocket.
What can you do?
While this new feature has its perks, you may want to check in with your kids and have them check their settings just to be safe. Like all social media, it is worth your time to do a little research and regularly update your privacy settings, exercising reasonable caution, so that you aren’t giving away more than you thought.
In the world of storytelling, the path not taken has always held a powerful interest for the audience. DVD extras contain alternate endings. Fanfiction explores what might have been if the characters had made a slightly different choice. Open world video games and tabletop RPGs invite the player to take control of the story, and the player decisions shape the narrative. So why not movies? Why not shows?
Netflix, streamer of thousands of movies, purveyor and maker of shows, says why not indeed? And who would be more enthusiastic about this new format than kids? Kids these days: they think everything is a screen, they try to swipe book pages. They want to interact and participate, and Netflix is making that possible with new interactive shows Puss in Book (released June 20th) and Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile (set to release July 14).
These shows are an experimental push, and if they are well received, we may begin seeing more interactive media on Netflix aimed at an older audience.
How does it work?
Each show has a number of binary choices that can be made at various junctures in the story, such as whether the bears are friendly or mean, whether Puss in Boots should kiss the queen or shake her hand, and whether to fight or make friends with various opponents. Some choices result in the same outcome either way, and some send the story in a new direction, complete with new ending. Anyone who has ever read a story from the Choose Your Own Adventure series, popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s, is familiar with the format, and the writers for Buddy Thunderstruck call the structure a “string of pearls,” in which the character hijinks vary, but the core progression of the story—the string tying it together—does not.
This kind of episode takes significantly more work to write, animate, and produce than a traditional linear story, but promises more entertainment as well: the idea is that the kids can go back and watch it again, making different choices, until they have experienced all of the different story lines and endings.
What could be the future of interactive stories?
The implications of this new-to-tv format are awesome. Anyone who enjoys non-linear story-based video games already knows what I’m talking about. Player/viewer choice does more than increase the entertainment factor: it invites the audience to become a character in the story, and could create a more immersive experience. Think about how much entertainment the audience could get from a single show or movie if the story were even more non-linear than the “string of pearls” model, allowing more than one core story line, and more than two branches from each decision. Of course, the amount of work that would go into a more sophisticated choose-your-own-adventure Role Playing show or movie would be substantial, but so would the market for it.
With competition between media streaming companies at a fever-pitch, those of us excited to see television and movies experimenting with this exciting new structure can’t help but watch with bated breath. May the best media streaming service/production company win!
The internet is a double-edged sword. It is a wonderful, powerful tool that is a central part of modern life. Those who don’t know how to leverage some of the virtual resources at their disposal face an increasing level of disadvantage in all facets of development compared to their peers. It is important for children to be able to access the tools they need to grow into tech competent adults (not to mention the educational edge such technology can bestow).
But at the same time, the internet has a seedy underbelly of scammers, bullies, hackers, and more sinister folk, which are in the news at least weekly. Children are not the only targets, but they are the most vulnerable. A parent’s knee-jerk reaction may be to supervise all time online, or drastically limit it, and then feverishly Google how to set up firewalls and parental spy software. But is that really the best way to keep your kids safe?
Kids—especially older ones in school—depend on the internet for a lot. So do we all. And most parents would likely say that their kids know more about software and devices than they themselves do. So round-the-clock supervision isn’t really feasible, nor is it likely to foster trust between you and your child, especially as they get older. You could engage in a tech arms race with your child. But most cyber security experts interviewed in this article on safety.com recommend teaching your older kids how to protect themselves online rather than trying to watch them all the time.
- Ask them to teach you how stuff works. Feel in over your head? Is your child far better with technology than you? Use that. Get involved and informed on the sites and apps they are using by setting up your own account and then asking them for tips on using it. Everyone enjoys sharing what they know, and you can learn how to adjust security settings together.
- Encourage open communication about technology. You want them to feel like they can come to you for help if something weird happens online, or they clicked a link they shouldn’t have. If they DO come to you because they made a mistake, don’t freak out. Getting angry or upset may cause them to keep it to themselves next time.
Another way to not only get talking but build trust is showing that you are interested. Parents who play games with their kids are creating the kind of communication channels that are friendly and nurturing. And they are having fun because games are awesome!
- Teach them what to look out for so they can become self-sufficient now? “Don’t click this, because…” is much more likely to be remembered and followed than just “don’t click this.”
- Make guidelines to limit sharing on social media—and that goes for everyone! Personal info (like addresses, phone numbers, social security number/credit card numbers, etc.) should never be publicly searchable. You should limit who sees your posts to people you actually know, have met in person, and trust with that information—and people you’ve only met online could be anyone. Spend some time together figuring out how to change privacy settings on your social media, and beware of apps that want to share your location.
- Teach them that they are interacting with real people. When you interact with people online, and most of what you see is pictures, text, and memes, it’s a little too easy to forget that a complex human being is at the other end of the conversation. Because of that, it is easier for your kids (or you) to be victimized, or even to victimize others. This one goes both ways.
If you can’t see them, they could be anyone. The majority of people online are just regular people, and they aren’t trying to harm you. But those few bad apples make it hard to trust anyone. You shouldn’t live in fear, but healthy cynicism is good practice, and erring on the side of safety is too. Teach your kids about catfishing.
People have feelings, so be kind. Every cyber bully is someone’s kid who just needs a lesson in empathy. Teach your kids that they are talking to real people and that their words have real world consequences.
- Teach them that what they do and say will be online permanently. Even after it has been deleted, your pictures, posts, and other internet activities exist on a server somewhere, and screen shots and copies are easy to make and share. That is a sobering thought that is guaranteed to make anyone think twice about what they plan to share. This is a unique problem to today’s young generations, and the opportunities for public humiliation abound. If all of my adolescent angst had been shared with the world and was still searchable, I don’t know if I would ever get over it, even now.
Don’t know how to get started? Gamify it!
This doesn’t have to be hard; in fact, research shows that it’s better when it’s fun. A 2016 review of 10 studies published in the International Journal for Information Security Research (IJISR) on the effectiveness of using games to teach kids about internet safety showed that games can be extremely effective teaching tools.
Which is why it’s awesome that Google just announced a game to do just that. In a recent blog post, Google announced their new training program called Be Internet Awesome. It teaches kids how to be:
- Smart about who they share with.
- Alert about fake offers and scams.
- Strong in their passwords and privacy.
- Kind in how they treat others.
- Brave enough to communicate with parents.
It is free to play and aims to teach kids how to be safe on the internet in a way that isn’t boring. And it isn’t: some of the puzzles are legitimately challenging, and I learned some new things about staying safe on the internet in my play-through.