Mozilla is sharing YouTube horror stories to prod Google for more transparency – CNET

Angela Lang/CNET

Mozilla is publishing anecdotes of YouTube viewing gone awry -- anonymous stories from people who say they innocently searched one thing but eventually ended up in a dark rabbit hole of videos. It's a campaign aimed at pressuring Google's massive video site to make itself more accessible to independent researchers trying to study its algorithms. 

YouTube didn't respond to a message seeking comment. 

"The big problem is we have no idea what is happening on YouTube," said Guillaume Chaslot, who is a fellow at Mozilla, a nonprofit best known for its unit that makes and operates the Firefox web browser. 

Chaslot is an ex-YouTube engineer who has investigated the video site's recommendation technology from the outside after he left the company in 2013. "We can see that there are problems, but we have no idea if the problem is from people being people or from algorithms," he said. 

YouTube is the world's biggest online video source, with 2 billion monthly users, and 70% of the time people spend watching videos there is the result of one of its recommendation engines. But YouTube has come under fire for how its recommendation technology can enflame problems on the service, such as pedophilia, extremist content or misinformation. 

Mozilla is sharing YouTube horror stories to prod Google for more transparency     - CNET

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"What we're trying to do is provide a window into the consumer concern about this," said Ashley Boyd, Mozilla's vice president of advocacy. "There's a question about whether people care about this problem because they haven't left the platform. We don't think that's a good measure of whether people care."

Mozilla is publishing 28 stories it's terming #YouTubeRegrets; they include, for example, an anecdote from someone who who said a search for German folk songs ended up returning neo-Nazi clips, and a testimonial from a mother who said her 10-year-old daughter searched for tap-dancing videos and ended up watching extreme contortionist clips that affected her body image. CNET hasn't independently verified any of the stories Mozilla published.

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