YouTube videos featuring young children drew nearly triple the average viewership of the platform's other content, according to research released on Thursday that provided ammunition for child advocates who want Alphabet to take more aggressive steps to make its streaming service safer for kids.
Pew Research Center said its findings show videos aimed at or featuring children are among YouTube's most popular materials, attracting an outsized audience relative to the number uploaded.
YouTube has come under fire in recent years from lawmakers and parent groups who contend it has not done enough to protect the privacy of minors.
Last year, the Centre for Digital Democracy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), saying YouTube's parent company violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
The complaint said the company "made a vast amount of money by using children's personal information" and "profited from advertising revenues from ads on its YouTube channels that are watched by children."
"YouTube likes to pretend its not a site for children until it's time to sell ads," CCFC Executive Director Josh Golin said.
"We have always been clear YouTube has never been for people under 13," said YouTube, which announced 2 billion monthly users in May. The platform shares limited data, but music, gaming and kids' content are known to rank highly in viewership.
Other groups have called for more steps to block access to age-inappropriate content and to deter potential predators. Complaints prompted YouTube to introduce punishments for parents uploading videos showing kids placed in dangerous situations. The platform has said it is weighing additional changes.
Pew researchers said they analysed activity during the first week of 2019 on nearly 44,000 YouTube channels with more than 250,000 subscribers.
Just 2 percent of the 243,000 videos uploaded that week featured at least one individual that looked under 13 years old to human reviewers. But the small subset received an average of 298,000 views, compared with 97,000 for videos without children, according to the report. Median viewership figures were about 57,000 and 14,000.
Channels that uploaded at least one video featuring a child averaged 1.8 million subscribers, compared to 1.2 million for those that did not, Pew said.
YouTube said it could not comment on Pew's survey methods or results. It maintained that the most popular categories are comedy, music, sports and "how to" videos.
Popular videos with children included those with parenting tips or children singing or dressing up.
YouTube's policies ban children under 13 from using its main service and instead direct them to its curated YouTube Kids app. But many parents use the main YouTube service to entertain or educate children, other research has found.
© Thomson Reuters 2019