Tech Tip: Let Gmail Finish Your Sentences


Google’s new machine-learning tools for its mail service can save you time and typos — as long as you are comfortable sharing your thoughts with the software.

Q. The new Gmail feature that lets the software write your mail messages for you sounds intriguing, if not unsettling. How does it work, and has the feature rolled out to regular users so I can see it for myself?

A. The Smart Compose feature of Google’s recent Gmail update does not exactly write your full message for you. The program uses machine learning techniques to evaluate what you are writing — and then suggests what to type next based on that analysis. Gmail’s text suggestions appear in slightly lighter gray type at the end of the sentence you are writing. If you choose to accept the computer-generated words, tap the Tab key to add the material and move on to the next sentence.

Once you enable it in the settings, Gmail’s new Smart Compose feature can finish your sentences for you as you type.CreditThe New York Times

In theory, the Smart Compose tool can speed up your message composition and cut down on typographical errors. While “machine learning” means the software (and not a human) is scanning your work-in-progress to get information for the predictive text function, you are sharing information with Google when you use its products.

Tech Tip: Finding Your Contacts in the New Gmail


Google’s recent revamp of its mail service has moved a few old features to new places, but you don’t have to look far.

Q. I’m trying to find my contacts list in the new Gmail. Where is it hidden?

A. Google’s recent revamp of its Gmail service for desktop web browsers moves a few things around. In the previous version, you could switch to the contacts list by clicking the Gmail menu on the left side of the page, but that method no longer works once you update to the refreshed Gmail.

You can now get to the contacts page by clicking the Apps icon in the upper right corner of the Gmail inbox. When you click the Apps icon, which is a square made up of nine smaller squares, it unfolds to reveal a panel of icons for other Google programs and services, including Google Photos, Google News and YouTube.

In the updated version of Gmail for the desktop, you can get to your contacts from the Apps panel on the right side of the window, or by hovering the mouse cursor over a sender’s name until a contact card pops up.CreditThe New York Times

If you do not immediately see the Contacts icon in the window, scroll through the panel until you find it. You can drag the Contacts icon to the top of the collection to find it more easily in the future, and can rearrange the other icons around it as you wish. Click the Contacts icon to open your address book.

You can also edit a sender’s contact card right on the mailbox screen. To do that, hover the cursor over the person’s name in your inbox list. A contact card should pop up, showing the sender’s email address and giving you a few options, like an “Add to Contacts” button if you do not already have the person in your address book. You may see an “Edit Contact” button if you have previously added the sender. Icons for creating a new email, scheduling a calendar event, sending a text and starting a video call with that person are also available.

Tech Tip: Jumping Into the New Gmail


Google recently overhauled the web version of its email software, and you can try out the new version — even if you haven’t been formally invited yet.

Q. I am curious about the new version of Gmail for the web, but it does not seem to have reached my account yet. When will it be available to everyone? If I don’t like it, is the upgrade mandatory?

A. Google unveiled an updated web version of its Gmail software on April 25 and is gradually rolling out the new features and visual redesign to regular and business users. If your account has not been updated yet (or you chose not to try out the new version when first offered), click on the gear-shaped Settings icon and choose “Try the new Gmail” at the top of the menu. In addition to a revamped look that sports bigger buttons and menus, the update adds features intended to help you manage your mail.

If you still have the old version of Gmail (or skipped the first invitation to try the update), click the Settings icon to get your chance to try out the service’s new look and features.CreditThe New York Times

Google Strikes Humble Tone While Promoting A.I. Technology

Mr. Pichai said artificial intelligence had uncovered breakthroughs in health care that humans would not have spotted. An artificial intelligence program running on Google’s so-called machine-learning software that helps diagnose eye disease from a retina image found that the same photo could be used to identify cardiovascular risk.

It is the type of meaningful breakthrough that Google executives love to promote, but it has little to do with Google’s core web products or the way it makes money. But even those services are getting an artificially intelligent makeover.


Developers from Sri Lanka, Bolivia and India were among the visitors at the conference.

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The company demonstrated how its Google Assistant computer software is now capable of calling a person at a hair salon or a restaurant to make a reservation. Google said artificial intelligence had allowed the computer’s voice to sound more human — complete with “uhs” and natural pauses, as well as logical follow-up questions — so the person at the other end does not know that he or she is speaking to a computer.

Improvements in A.I. have allowed Google’s computer assistant to have different voices and accents, including the ability later this year to have the singer John Legend tell you the day’s weather.

The company also demonstrated a new artificially intelligent feature in Gmail, called Smart Compose, that starts to suggest complete sentences in email as you type. Google said this would help users complete emails more quickly with fewer spelling and grammar mistakes. It plans to add this feature over the next few weeks.

But one of its most significant A.I. breakthroughs will never be seen by consumers.

Google said it would roll out a new processing chip to power many of its machine-learning programs. A.I. programs require a great deal of computing power, and custom-made chips housed inside data centers to handle this data crunch have fueled an arms race among the tech industry’s biggest companies. Google said its new chip would be eight times more powerful than the chip it introduced last year.

Mark Hung, a research vice president at the research firm Gartner, said the conference demonstrated how much Google relied on A.I. to make its products stand out.

“Almost everything Google is announcing now is A.I. related,” he said. “Google has a lead on artificial intelligence over many of its competitors, and it’s going to use that as a weapon to advance their products forward.”

In keeping with a theme of a more responsible Google, the company also introduced features aimed at addressing how technology is burrowing deeper into our lives — sometimes in negative ways.

Google unveiled a series of “digital well-being” updates in the next version of its Android smartphone software. They include a timer that allows a person to limit time spent on certain apps each day and a Do Not Disturb feature that silences phone calls and notifications, and that can be turned on by placing the smartphone screen face down on a table.

The company is also trying to encourage good manners with its Google Assistant. The new “pretty please” feature, which encourages children to use “please” when asking for assistance, aims to address the concern that children are learning to speak impolitely because they are talking to more digital assistants.

Continue reading the main story

Why A.I. and Cryptocurrency Are Making One Type of Computer Chip Scarce

When the company recently ordered new hardware from a supplier in China, the shipment was delayed by four weeks. And the price of the chips was about 15 percent higher than it had been six months earlier.

“We need the latest G.P.U.s to stay competitive,” Mr. Scott said. “There is a tangible impact to our research work.”

But he did not blame the shortage on other A.I. specialists. He blamed it on cryptocurrency miners. “We have never had this problem before,” he said. “It was only when crypto got hot that we saw a significant slowdown in our ability to get G.P.U.s.”

G.P.U.s were originally designed to render graphics for computer games and other software. In recent years, they have become an essential tool in the creation of artificial intelligence. Almost every A.I. company relies on the chips.

Like Malong, those companies build what are called neural networks, complex algorithms that learn tasks by analyzing vast amounts of data. Large numbers of G.P.U.s, which consume relatively little electrical power and can be packed into a small space, can process the huge amounts of math required by neural networks more efficiently than standard chips.

Speculators in digital currency are snapping up G.P.U.s for a very different purpose. After setting up machines that help run the large computer networks that manage Ethereum and other Bitcoin alternatives, people and businesses can receive payment in the form of newly created digital coins. G.P.U.s are also efficient for processing the math required for this digital mining.


The Volta graphics processing unit, or G.P.U., made by Nvidia. A boom in artificial intelligence and the rise of cryptocurrencies has created a surge in demand for such chips.

Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

Crypto miners bought 3 million G.P.U. boards — flat panels that can be added to personal and other computers — worth $776 million last year, said Joe Peddie, a researcher who has tracked sales of the chips for decades.

That may not sound like a lot in an overall market worth more than $15 billion, but the combination of A.I. builders and crypto miners — not to mention gamers — has squeezed the G.P.U. supply. Things have gotten so tight that resellers for Nvidia, the Silicon Valley chip maker that produces 70 percent of the G. P.U. boards, often restrict how many a company can buy each day.

“It is a tough moment. We could do more if we had more of these” chips in our data centers, said Kevin Scott, Microsoft’s chief technology officer. “There are real products that could be getting better right now for real users. This is not a theoretical exercise.”

AMD, another G.P.U. supplier, and other companies, say that some of current shortage is a result of a limited worldwide supply of other components on G.P.U. boards, and they note that retail prices have begun to stabilize. But in March, at his company’s annual chip conference in Silicon Valley, Nvidia’s chief executive, Jen-Hsun Huang, indicated that the company still could not produce the chips fast enough.

This has created an opportunity for numerous other chip makers. A company called Bitmain, for instance, has released a new chip specifically for mining Ethereum coins. Google has built its own chip for work on A.I. and is giving other companies access to it through a cloud computing service. Last month, Facebook indicated in a series of online job postings that it, too, was working to build a chip just for A.I.

Dozens of other companies are designing similar chips that take the already specialized G.P.U. into smaller niches, and more companies producing chips means a greater supply and lower prices.

“You want this not just for economic reasons, but for supply chain stability,” said Mr. Scott of Microsoft.

The market will not diversify overnight. Matthew Zeiler, the chief executive and founder of a computer-vision start-up in New York, said the prices of some of the G.P.U. boards that the company uses have risen more than 40 percent since last year.

Mr. Zeiler believes that Nvidia will be very hard to unseat. Many companies will stick with the company’s technology because that is what they are familiar with, and because the G.P.U. boards it provides can do more than one thing.

Kevin Zhang, the founder of ABC Consulting, has bought thousands of G.P.U.s for mining various digital currencies. He said that a chip just for, say, mining Ethereum was not necessarily an attractive option for miners. It cannot be used to mine other currencies, and the groups that run systems like Ethereum often change the underlying technology, which can make dedicated chips useless.

Interest in digital currency mining could cool, of course. But the A.I. and gaming markets will continue to grow.

Mr. Zeiller said that his company had recently bought new G.P.U.s for its data center in New Jersey, but could not install them for more than a month because the computer racks needed to house the chips were in short supply as a result of the same market pressures.

“The demand,” he said, “is definitely crazy.”

Continue reading the main story

Microsoft Tries a New Role: Moral Leader

But while the company’s power has diminished since a couple of decades ago, when it controlled computing through Windows, Microsoft remains an influential voice. On Monday, its market capitalization of $733 billion made it the third most valuable technology company, behind Apple and Amazon and ahead of Google parent company, Alphabet, and Facebook.

“The irony for Microsoft is that they lost in search, they lost in social networks and they lost in mobile, and as a consequence, they have avoided the recent pushback from governments and media,” said David Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “This has given Microsoft the freedom to take the high road as the ethical leader in technology.”

Since taking the reins at Microsoft in 2014, Mr. Nadella has brought a more sensitive style of leadership to the company than his two predecessors, Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates. That shift has proved to be more suitable for Microsoft in this era.

Two decades ago, Microsoft was depicted as a bully that ran roughshod over competitors in a landmark antitrust suit brought by the federal government, followed by similar cases brought by the European Union and private companies. Mr. Smith was brought in to make peace in Microsoft’s antitrust battles, and Mr. Nadella was the company’s first chief executive to start in the job since those suits were settled.


“We need to ask ourselves not only what computers can do but what computers should do,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said on Monday at the company’s developer conference in Seattle.

Kyle Johnson for The New York Times

In a phone interview, Mr. Smith, who is also Microsoft’s chief legal officer, called its legal problems in past decades a “gut-wrenching experience” that had shaped Microsoft in its current form. “It made Microsoft a better and more responsible company,” he said.

This year, Microsoft published a book that outlined some of the harmful effects that could come from artificial intelligence, such as bias in job recruiting. It has litigated four lawsuits against the United States government over the past five years in efforts to defend customers’ privacy rights. One of them, a fight over law enforcement access to data stored in an overseas Microsoft data center, went to the Supreme Court, which dropped the case after Congress enacted a law that mooted it.

“Not only did Microsoft learn from its mistakes, Satya is a unique and caring individual,” said Tim O’Reilly, a tech industry publisher and conference organizer. “He understands deeply that Microsoft must help others to succeed.”

The closest analog among Mr. Nadella’s peers is Tim D. Cook, the chief executive of Apple, who has painted Apple as a staunch defender of its customers’ privacy. He has jabbed at Facebook and Google, both advertising-supported businesses that profit from the personal data they collect from their users, a contrast to Apple’s business model of selling devices.

Facebook and Google, which owns YouTube, have defended their advertising businesses for allowing them to deliver services for free. They’ve promised to add more human moderators and invest in software tools that can screen out misinformation and other prohibited content.

Mr. Cook has not turned his ire toward Microsoft, which gets most of its revenue from software, hardware and cloud computing services. The company has investments in internet services that are supported in part by advertising, including its Bing search engine and LinkedIn, the social network for professionals it acquired in 2016.

Mr. Nadella has been more hesitant than Mr. Cook to publicly criticize other technology companies, turning to more subtle types of persuasion. A low-key leader, Mr. Nadella peppers his speeches and interviews with references to literature, warning that careless creators of technology could contribute to a dystopian world of George Orwell’s “1984” or Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” His lieutenant, Mr. Smith, has become a ubiquitous ambassador for Microsoft on the big social issues facing technology in Washington, in Brussels and on the conference circuit.

Microsoft is still occasionally cast in the role of villain. A California man who sold recycled electronic waste recently pleaded guilty for creating thousands of unauthorized discs that helped people restore the Windows operating system on refurbished PCs. The recycler, who has been sentenced to 15 months in prison, has said Microsoft supported the case against him, which was brought by federal prosecutors, because he threatened part of its business. Microsoft published a long blog post that portrayed his actions unfavorably.

Still, the Microsoft of 2018 is a long way from the company that was once portrayed as a corporate predator.

“Microsoft lived through negativity that these companies are experiencing now, and it doesn’t want to go back to those days,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow with Carnegie Mellon University’s Silicon Valley campus.

Mr. Smith of Microsoft said the greater scrutiny on the tech sector would not always fall on the same companies.

“At any given moment, there may be one or two companies in the spotlight,” he said. “I don’t think one should assume the same one or two are always going to be in the spotlight or always on the defensive.”

Continue reading the main story

Who Strikes Fear Into Silicon Valley? Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s Antitrust Enforcer

“Europe is acting to enforce antitrust laws where the U.S. is not,” said Jeremy Stoppelman, the chief executive of Yelp, who feels that American regulators dropped the ball when they decided not to pursue a case against Google in 2013 (Yelp is a longtime Google antagonist). “Ironically, many of the complainants in the E.U. antitrust case against Google are U.S. companies, pursuing justice in Europe precisely because the U.S., has not acted,” he said in an email.

While Ms. Vestager’s global influence is ascendant, her political fate is murky. She has made it clear that she would like a second term as competition commissioner, but there is no guarantee that the Danish government will reappoint her to the commission next year. In fact, the new prime minister, who comes from a rival party, has said he will not do so.

Though a long shot, Ms. Vestager is among the potential contenders for president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union. It is the most powerful job in the bloc — one never held by a woman, or by someone with her public profile.


Facebook’s C.E.O., Mark Zuckerberg, spent two days being interrogated by lawmakers in Washington in April.

Tom Brenner/The New York Times

Her appeal partly speaks to a populist impulse from the political left, a David-versus-Goliath belief that it is high time someone stood up to giant corporations, particularly those that exert so much power. But not everyone views her as a heroic regulatory warrior.

Critics of Ms. Vestager include leaders of American tech companies who have crossed her and who take issue with both her approach and her facts; Republicans in Congress; some members of the Trump administration; the Wall Street Journal editorial board; and groups like the Business Roundtable, a conservative-leaning, pro-business collection of American chief executives.

Apple is especially aggrieved. In 2016, Ms. Vestager ordered Ireland to reclaim 13 billion euros in back taxes, or about $15.5 billion, saying that the company had illegally received a tax break that was not available to others. Apple has begun paying the money into an escrow account, but both the company and Ireland have appealed the decision. They say it ignores how much tax Apple has already paid to Ireland, misrepresents the tax rate the company is subject to there, and reflects either a willful misreading or an ignorance of tax law.

Critics also accuse her of grandstanding, and of displaying bias against American companies.

“I think she has this vision of what the law should be, and it seems to me that when this radically affects major companies that are headquartered in the U.S., you might want to have more of a dialogue with the U.S. regulators and the U.S. government about it,” said Joe Kennedy, a senior fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington.

Both Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, and Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief, have traveled to Brussels to argue their cases in person, apparently in vain. Last June, Ms. Vestager fined Google €2.4 billion, or about $2.8 billion, after concluding that it had unfairly used its search engine to favor its services over those of its rivals. It was the largest such penalty in the European Commission’s history, and more than double similar fines levied by the United States.

Last May, she fined Facebook €110 million, or about $131 million, after concluding that it had misled the European authorities about its acquisition of the messaging service WhatsApp. And in January, she fined the American chip maker Qualcomm €997 million, or about $1.2 billion, saying it had abused its market dominance to shut out competitors.

For the moment, the attention is on data privacy, and whether it is possible to regulate how technology companies share and profit from users’ personal information.

As the top European official enforcing competition laws, Ms. Vestager has primarily concentrated on how a range of companies use, or abuse, their market dominance. But she has also emerged as a major voice of warning about the effect of tech firms on our habits, our privacy, our ability to make human connections and even democracy itself. (Europe has a new data privacy law that is to take effect May 25.)

“What’s fascinating about her role is that in her mind, the new antitrust is about data, not about market power,” said Randy Komisar, a veteran Silicon Valley executive and now a general partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.


Apple’s headquarters in Cork, Ireland. In 2016, Ms. Vestager ordered Ireland to reclaim 13 billion euros in back taxes from the company.

Andrew Testa for The New York Times

He added: “I believe the European approach is more appropriate than the U.S. laissez-faire approach. The U.S. economy sort of lives or dies by the notion of free markets, and I think what we’re seeing is a perversion of free market economics that is very difficult to counter without regulation.”

Appearing last November at a tech summit meeting in Lisbon, Ms. Vestager was interviewed onstage by Kara Swisher, host of the Recode Decode podcast, as about 15,000 people looked on. Many in the audience were young techies who greeted the commissioner with something like euphoria, particularly when she declared that “we need to take our democracy back” from social media.

“She’s what my generation looks for in a politician,” said Corina Stoenescu, a Harvard Business School student who helped organize a conference in March where Ms. Vestager was the keynote speaker. She added: “The moment tech giants come into question, then Vestager comes into question. She’s the only person on the planet who has a voice about it.”

Other jurisdictions are following Europe’s regulatory lead. Brazil, among other countries, has begun an antitrust case against Google, and one of the search giant’s Brazilian competitors said last summer that it would use the European arguments in its own lawsuit. And in November, the state of Missouri opened an investigation into whether Google violated the state’s antitrust and consumer protection laws.

“It’s good if we can inspire each other globally,” Ms. Vestager said in a recent interview in Copenhagen.

She was juggling interviews and preparing for a speech, as a bag of knitting rested nearby. She likes to knit in meetings, and has recently been making elephants, after moving on from socks. (She also sometimes sews her own clothes.)

Trained as an economist, she grew up in Glostrup, a suburb of Copenhagen, the daughter of two Lutheran ministers. (She’s not a fan of organized religion, she said, and follows a “Believe in God, fear the church” philosophy.)

She entered politics at 21, joining the tiny centrist Danish Social Liberal Party, which was founded by her great-grandfather. Elected to Parliament in 2001, she rose to become the party’s parliamentary leader six years later — she was already national chairwoman — and was blamed as being too young, too boring and female when the Social Liberals lost half their seats in the subsequent election.

“She was very, very young, but if she had been a man, people would not have complained in the same way,” said her biographer, Elisabet Svane.


Ms. Vestager in Copenhagen during a European Union Economic and Financial Affairs Council meeting in 2012. As Danish economics and interior minister, Ms. Vestager pushed through deeply unpopular cuts in retirement and unemployment benefits.

Keld Navntoft/Scanpix, via Getty Images

As for the boring part: “She has a lot of humor, but she is a little boring sometimes,” Ms. Svane said in an interview. “The party is boring. They are technocrats and teachers, and they always know what is best for society.”

Ms. Vestager brought in a media consultant, Henrik Kjerrumgaard, who advised her to drop the dull platitudes, simplify her message and stick to her beliefs — even if they made her unpopular. She rethought how to present herself.

“All of us have multiple selves,” she said. “Being a public figure is not about changing yourself, but maybe bringing out some other side of yourself.” She learned to smile more, she said, “to be more direct, less detailed, not like an economist lecturing.”

Her party rebounded in the 2011 elections and joined a three-party governing coalition led by the Social Democrats under Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Appointed to the new post of economics and interior minister, Ms. Vestager pushed through deeply unpopular cuts in retirement and unemployment benefits — forcing Ms. Thorning-Schmidt to renege on her own campaign promises — while helping enact more liberal immigration policies.

She made a fair share of enemies, among them a group of long-term unemployed workers angry about reductions in their benefits. She still keeps the sculpture they gave her, of a middle-finger-brandishing hand, in her office in Brussels, saying it was “a reminder that you will make mistakes, and people will have a different point of view, and that should be part of your understanding of yourself.”

In 2014, Denmark made her the country’s appointee to the European Commission, and she took charge of the competition portfolio.

Ms. Vestager appears to have found that rare thing, a decent work-life balance. (By comparison, the fictional character she and Ms. Thorning-Schmidt are collectively said to have inspired, Birgitte Nyborg, the central figure of the Danish political drama “Borgen,” struggles unsuccessfully to hang onto her marriage.) Ms. Vestager’s husband, Thomas Jensen, a math and philosophy teacher, lives in Copenhagen with their youngest daughter, 15. Their two older daughters are in college.

“Here, it’s more the rule than the exception to be a working mother,” she said. “I have sometimes been asked if I’m a bad mother to my daughters, and I say, ‘They don’t know any different — this is the mother they’ve got.’”

Lately she has been thinking about power — what it is, who has it, how it is used — after reading the historian Mary Beard’s latest book, “Women and Power.” “The #MeToo movement can be maybe the most important catalyst for decades in doing that,” Ms. Vestager said. “It tears down our understanding of power.

“Power is not something you own,” she continued. “It’s only something you’re borrowing.”

Continue reading the main story

Google Will Ask Buyers of U.S. Election Ads to Prove Identities


Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia, Democratic sponsors of the Honest Ads Act, a measure to increase transparency in online political advertising after Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Al Drago for The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Google will begin requiring those who buy ads related to federal elections in the United States through its sprawling advertising network to prove that they are citizens or lawful residents of the country.

In a blog post published on Friday, Google said it would take steps to verify if people or organizations are allowed to buy political advertising and ask them to prove that they are who they say they are. It will, for example, ask a political action committee for an Internal Revenue Service-issued employer identification number, or ask an individual for government-issued identification and a Social Security number.

In October, Google disclosed that the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election, had spent nearly $5,000 buying online advertising during the election cycle.

Laws in the United States restrict foreign entities from running election-related ads.

The new policies pertain to advertisements featuring candidates for federal office or current office holders. The rules do not apply to candidates for state or local offices. The policies also do not apply to advertisements on politically charged issues — the types of topics that foreign agents used to sow division in the American electorate ahead of the 2016 elections.


Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, showing an online ad intended to suppress voters in the 2016 presidential election. Google is tightening its rules on who can purchase political ads related to federal elections.

Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

“As we learn from these changes and our continued engagement with leaders and experts in the field, we’ll work to improve transparency of political issue ads and expand our coverage to a wider range of elections,” Kent Walker, a Google senior vice president and general counsel, said in the post announcing the new policies.

Google and Facebook, the two dominant forces in online advertising, are tightening guidelines for election ads as they brace for this fall’s midterm races. Politicians and regulators will be watching closely to see whether those technology platforms can be used again for misinformation campaigns.

Continue reading the main story

YouTube Kids, Criticized for Content, Introduces New Parental Controls


Some content that has slipped past filters on YouTube Kids, which is supposed to contain only child-friendly content, contains well-known characters in disturbing situations.

YouTube Kids, which has been criticized for inadvertently recommending disturbing videos to children, said Wednesday that it would introduce several ways for parents to limit what can be watched on the popular app.

Beginning this week, parents will be able to select “trusted channels” and topics that their children can access on the app, like “Sesame Workshop” or “learning,” that have been curated by people at YouTube Kids and its partners. The Google-owned app said in a blog post on Wednesday that parents would also have the option to restrict video recommendations to channels that have been “verified” by YouTube Kids, avoiding the broader sea of content that the app pulls from the main YouTube site through algorithms and other automated processes.

YouTube Kids was introduced in 2015 for children of preschool age and older, and it says it has more than 11 million weekly viewers. But parents have discovered a range of inappropriate videos on the app, highlighting the platform’s dependence on automation and a lack of human oversight. The New York Times reported in the fall that children using the app had been shown videos with popular characters from Nick Jr. and Disney Junior in violent or lewd situations, and other disturbing imagery, sometimes set to nursery rhymes.

More recently, Business Insider reported that the app was suggesting conspiracy theory videos to children, including claims that the world is flat and that the moon landing was faked. YouTube Kids had previously relied primarily on parents to report troubling videos, a practice that was criticized because children are often the only ones watching the content on tablets or phones.


This video, which appeared on YouTube Kids, was uploaded by a verified account on YouTube called Freak Family and has attracted more than 20 million views.

Later this year, parents will be able to handpick every video and channel that children can view through the app, YouTube Kids said in its blog post, even restricting them to, say, 10 videos or a single channel.


Parents will be able to limit access to videos from channels approved either by them or by the YouTube Kids team.

The changes announced Wednesday provide “a more robust suite of tools for parents to customize the YouTube Kids experience,” James Beser, product director for the platform, said in a statement. “From collections of channels from trusted partners to enabling parents to select each video and channel themselves, we’re putting parents in the driver’s seat like never before.”

Continue reading the main story

YouTube Says Computers Are Catching Problem Videos

Figuring out how to remove unwanted videos — and balancing that with free speech — is a major challenge for the future of YouTube, said Eileen Donahoe, executive director at Stanford University’s Global Digital Policy Incubator.

“It’s basically free expression on one side and the quality of discourse that’s beneficial to society on the other side,” Ms. Donahoe said. “It’s a hard problem to solve.”

YouTube declined to disclose whether the number of videos it had removed had increased from the previous quarter or what percentage of its total uploads those 8.28 million videos represented. But the company said the takedowns represented “a fraction of a percent” of YouTube’s total views during the quarter.


Google said last year it would hire 10,000 people to address policy violations across its platforms. YouTube said on Monday that it had filled a majority of the jobs that had been allotted to it.

Roger Kisby for The New York Times

Betting on improvements in artificial intelligence is a common Silicon Valley approach to dealing with problematic content; Facebook has also said it is counting on A.I. tools to detect fake accounts and fake news on its platform. But critics have warned against depending too heavily on computers to replace human judgment.

It is not easy for a machine to tell the difference between, for example, a video of a real shooting and a scene from a movie. And some videos slip through the cracks, with embarrassing results. Last year, parents complained that violent or provocative videos were finding their way to YouTube Kids, an app that is supposed to contain only child-friendly content that has automatically been filtered from the main YouTube site.

YouTube has contended that the volume of videos uploaded to the site is too big of a challenge to rely only on human monitors.

Still, in December, Google said it was hiring 10,000 people in 2018 to address policy violations across its platforms. In a blog post on Monday, YouTube said it had filled the majority of the jobs that had been allotted to it, including specialists with expertise in violent extremism, counterterrorism and human rights, as well as expanding regional teams. It was not clear what YouTube’s final share of the total would be.

Still, YouTube said three-quarters of all videos flagged by computers had been removed before anyone had a chance to watch them.

The company’s machines can detect when a person tries to upload a video that has already been taken down and will prevent that video from reappearing on the site. And in some cases with videos containing nudity or misleading content, YouTube said its computer systems are adept enough to delete the video without requiring a human to review the decision.

The company said its machines are also getting better at spotting violent extremist videos, which tend to be harder to identify and have fairly small audiences.

At the start of 2017, before YouTube introduced so-called machine-learning technology to help computers identify videos associated with violent extremists, 8 percent of videos flagged and removed for that kind of content had fewer than 10 views. In the first quarter of 2018, the company said, more than half of the videos flagged and removed for violent extremism had fewer than 10 views.

Even so, users still play a meaningful role in identifying problematic content. The top three reasons users flagged videos during the quarter involved content they considered sexual, misleading or spam, and hateful or abusive.

YouTube said users had raised 30 million flags on roughly 9.3 million videos during the quarter. In total, 1.5 million videos were removed after first being flagged by users.

Continue reading the main story