Google, responding to critics urging the internet giant to improve child safety in its services, announced a series of changes to YouTube and Google services designed to provide additional protections for kids younger than 18.

One of the biggest updates: YouTube will gradually start adjusting the default upload setting to the most private option available for users ages 13-17. With private uploads, content can only be seen by the user
and specific other individuals they choose to share the videos with.

“We want to help younger users make informed decisions about their online footprint and digital privacy, including encouraging them to make an intentional choice if they’d like to make their content public,” James Beser, YouTube director of product management wrote in a blog post.

YouTube users who want to make their content public can change the default upload setting, Beser added. At the same time, YouTube will provide prompts to kids informing them of who can see their videos.

In addition, YouTube also will turn off the video autoplay feature for all users 13-17. The platform will add an autoplay option on YouTube Kids, its curated-content experience for kids 4-12, but that also will be turned off by default. “We want to empower parents to be able to choose an autoplay setting that’s right for their family,” Beser wrote.

And to promote “digital well-being,” YouTube will turn “take a break” and “bedtime” reminders on by default for users 13-17. (Kids under 13 are barred from signing up for a regular YouTube account, although critics have complained that prohibition can be easily circumvented.)

In another big change, Google in the next few weeks will introduce a new policy that lets anyone under 18 — or their parent or guardian — to request the removal of their images from Google Image results. “Of course, removing an image from Search doesn’t remove it from the web, but we believe this change will help give young people more control of their images online,” Mindy Brooks, GM of Google Kids and Families, wrote in a blog post.

Other updates from Google and YouTube:

  • Google will block ad-targeting based on the age, gender or interests of people under 18. In addition, the company says it will expand safeguards to prevent “age-sensitive ad categories” from being shown to teens.
  • YouTube Kids has never allowed ads or paid product placements. In addition, YouTube said it will also begin to remove “overly commercial content” from YouTube Kids, such as videos that only focus on product packaging or directly encourages children to spend money.
  • Google SafeSearch will be enabled by default for users under 18 and Location History will be turned off by default for users under 18.
  • The Google Play app store will add a new “Families” section where apps will be required to share information on data practices in greater detail.
  • For devices that use Google Assistant, the company in the coming months will roll out new filters that allow people to block news, podcasts, and access to webpages.

In addition to the product and policy changes, Google said it is developing new informational resources for young people and their parents to help them better understand what data is being collected, why and how it is used.

In 2019, Google and YouTube agreed to pay $170 million to settle allegations by the Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General that YouTube illegally collected personal information from children.