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Sources

Google Forces 69-Year-Old To Prove That He’s Not Underage

A serious AI fail in Belgium for the supposed algorithm experts of Mountain View.

Google Forces 69-Year-Old To Prove That He’s Not Underage
Genevieve Mansfield

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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Future

Livestream Shopping Is Huge In China — Will It Fly Elsewhere?

Streaming video channels that allows interactive home shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.

A A female volunteer promotes spring tea products via on-line live streaming on a pretty mountain surrounded by tea plants.

In Beijing, selling spring tea products via on-line live streaming.

Xinhua / ZUMA
Gwendolyn Ledger

SANTIAGOTikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short viral videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.

Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.

This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.

Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher conversion rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.

Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.

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