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YouTube faces FTC investigation into its kids practices, report says

The US government's late-stage probe, which may trigger fines, has already propelled the company to rethink crucial elements like its recommendation algorithm.

YouTube Kids is a standalone video app designed for children.
Jason Cipriani/CNET

YouTube may face fines from a late-stage investigation by the US government into the video giant's handling of children's videos, according to a Wednesday report by The Washington Post, which cites unnamed people familiar with the probe. The investigation at the Federal Trade Commission has propelled YouTube to reconsider some of its most fundamental elements, like its influential algorithm that suggests the next video to watch. 

The news came the same day as a report that YouTube is weighing significant changes to protect its youngest viewers and its content creators. Executives at the Google-owned video giant were reportedly debating whether to move all children's content off the main site to the standalone YouTube Kids app, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing unnamed people briefed on the talks. (The Post reported such a drastic move was unlikely.)

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Amid a parade of crises about content moderation on its massive video service, YouTube has been under fire over content that exploits children. YouTube has faced a backlash after disturbing videos got past filters on YouTube Kids, for example, as well as complaints that its algorithm fosters a community of viewers looking for videos perceived to sexualize children. To address some concerns, YouTube in February disabled comments on videos featuring minors, and earlier this month it restricted younger minors from livestreaming on the site without an adult. 

Both YouTube and the FTC declined to comment on the Post's report. 

In regard to the Journal report, YouTube said it considers many approaches to making its video site better. 

"We consider lots of ideas for improving YouTube and some remain just that -- ideas," a YouTube spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "Others, we develop and launch, like our restrictions to minors livestreaming or updated hate speech policy."

The FTC's probe was sparked by multiple complaints about both YouTube's main app and its dedicated YouTube kids app violating federal laws regarding children, the Post reported. 

Originally published June 16, 10:25 a.m. PT.
Update, 12:17 p.m.: Adds mention of Washington Post report and updates story to reflect the development.