Guy, a 69-year-old Belgian, was simply trying to enjoy a YouTube video when Google threatened to lock him out of all of his affiliated accounts … because according to their software, he was under 15 years old.
Everything seemed fine as the senior, hailing from the Spa area in eastern Belgium, leisurely fell down a YouTube rabbit hole, watching video after video. As he went to click the next one, he received a strange notification from YouTube: "You are too young to have an unsupervised Google account." Google's software had become convinced that the 69-year-old was a tween, and therefore not permitted to watch the following video. The notification also warned the graybeard that if he did not prove he was at least 16 years old, he would be locked out of all of his accounts.
"Google threatened to paralyze my access under the pretext that I was underage," Guy told radio channel and news outlet RTL. "But I am a grandfather."
Guy originally thought that perhaps the notification was a scam, as the alert asked for a valid ID or credit card to prove his identity. He even contacted the Computer Crime Unit to be sure, only to be redirected back to Google. But the Belgian senior is not the only adult that Google's software has mistaken for a child — several blog sites and Reddit pages are filled with other older people complaining about being locked out of their accounts after being assumed to be underage.
Like television series and movies, YouTube videos are also rated for age-appropriateness, with some videos being fully restricted to underage audiences. In order to ensure that minors are not watching inappropriate videos, the algorithm uses machine learning to establish that the viewer is above 18 years old. The website even plans to introduce a new filter for teens and tweens that have outgrown "YouTube Kids'" but are still too young to explore the rest of the website unsupervised.
Google has only begun monitoring users' ages in the last few years, notably after several scandals forced the tech-giant to revisit how its algorithm verifies age and suggests videos. The company came under fire in 2017 for "Elsagate," where it was forced to delete numerous inappropriate videos that had slipped past their "YouTube Kids" filters. The tech giant's "recommendation" algorithm has also been implicated in allegations of "brainwashing" and "radicalizing," particularly after it was shown that several far-right YouTube channels had inspired the Christchurch Shooter.
But despite YouTube's renewed attempts to get age right, 69-year-old Guy was still left having to send Google his credit card information to prove that he was not actually under 15 years old. Now, the young-at-heart Belgian grandfather is finally old enough to surf YouTube.
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