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YouTube investigates reports of child abuse terms in autofill searches

The Guardian // 07th December 2017
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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “YouTube investigates reports of child abuse terms in autofill searches” was written by Samuel Gibbs, for theguardian.com on Monday 27th November 2017 17.30 UTC

YouTube is investigating reports that its autofill search features are suggesting “profoundly disturbing” child abuse terms.

Users reported seeing auto-suggestions of “s*x with your kids” and other variants after entering the phrase “how to have” in the search box on the Google-owned site.

Experts have speculated that the search terms – several of which use the asterisked word “s*x” – may have been deliberately aimed at embarrassing the site, avoiding YouTube’s filters for terms such as “sex”.

The latest incident comes days after major brands, including Mars, Lidl and Adidas, pulled their adverts from Google and YouTube after predatory comments were found on videos of children.

A YouTube spokeswoman said: “Earlier today our teams were alerted to this profoundly disturbing autocomplete result and we worked to quickly remove it as soon as we were made aware. We are investigating this matter to determine what was behind the appearance of this autocompletion.”

Because some of YouTube’s search algorithms are based on popularity, some have suggested that a coordinated effort by a group of people could have caused the searches to appear higher in results than they would organically.

None of the results linked to the “how to have” search showed videos of children being abused.

After last week’s incident over comments, Johanna Wright, vice-president of product management at YouTube, said: “We’re wholly committed to addressing these issues and will continue to invest the engineering and human resources needed to get it right. As a parent and as a leader in this organisation, I’m determined that we do.”

YouTube recently announced new “toughened” guidelines on videos featuring children and “videos that attempt to pass as family friendly but are clearly not”, which it says have already resulted in thousands of videos and more than 50 channel accounts being removed from the site.

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