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.
So according to Youtube’s new Terms of Service, if your channel isn’t making them enough money, they’ll just terminate it. To all of the smaller content creators out there, it was nice knowing ya.
— MP (@MpNintendoFan) November 9, 2019
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.”
Social media reactions to the news were mostly unfavorable.
I'm deleting all my YouTube accounts
— Merry Christmas from Woomitex (@Woomitex) November 10, 2019
I've been talking with a few friends of mineabout this the last 24 hours or so, it soundsabsolutely fucked, and if so, I don't think anysmall channel is going to survive, really sucks :/The worst part is that no site is ready to compete with YT yet, options are scarce.
— The Janitor (@PigManIam) November 11, 2019
eventually there will be an exodus from YT. Cannot happen soon enough – why have they shot themselves in the foot so damn many times over the past few years?
— Cat (@soaponarop) November 11, 2019
Liam Shackhorn tried to apply a cool compress on the fevered responses of his fellow Twitter users.
No, that's not what this means. This is basically them covering their asses if they have to cut someone who hurts the platform (ex: leafy) and cause advertisers to pull their fundingThis is a way of saying "if you hurt our site's funding in any way, we are allowed to stop you" https://t.co/OD9UlHgA1P
— Liam Shackhorn (@baby_shackhorn) November 10, 2019
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.
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.”