2020 will be a big year for online childcare — here are 7 startups to watch

Over the weekend, media and digital brand holding company IAC announced that it had agreed to buy Care.com, which describes itself as “the world’s largest online family care platform,” in a deal valued at about $500 million. Despite being the best-known marketplace in the United States for finding child and senior caregivers, Care.com has spent the past nine months dealing with the fallout from a Wall Street Journal investigative article that detailed potentially dangerous gaps in its vetting process. The company’s issues not only highlight the problems with scaling a marketplace created to find caregivers for the most vulnerable members of society, but also the United States’ childcare crisis.

Childcare in the United States is weighed down with many issues and arguably no one platform can fix it, no matter how large or well-known. Over the past year and a half, however, several startups dedicated to fixing specific challenges have raised funding, including Wonderschool, Kinside and Winnie.

IAC and Care.com’s announcement came at the end of a year when more media attention has been paid to the difficulties American parents face in finding and affording childcare, and how that contributes to gender disparities, falling birthrates and other social issues. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world without mandated paid parental leave and childcare is one of the biggest expenses for families. Several Democratic presidential candidates, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have made universal childcare part of their platform and business leaders like Alexis Ohanian are using their clout to advocate for better family leave policies.

But the issue has already created deep structural problems. From an economic perspective, a September 2018 study by ReadyNation and Council for a Strong America estimated that annually, the 11 million working parents in the United States lose a total of $37 billion in earnings because they lack adequate childcare. Businesses in turn lose a total of $13 billion a year as a result, while the impact on lower income and sales tax reduces tax revenues by $7 billion. Many parents change their career trajectories after they have children, even if they did not plan to. For example, a study published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that 43% of women and 23% of men in STEM change fields, switch to part-time work or leave the workforce.

YouTube asks the FTC to clarify how video creators should comply with COPPA ruling

YouTube is asking the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for further clarification and better guidance to help video creators understand how to comply with the FTC’s guidelines set forth as part of YouTube’s settlement with the regulator over its violations of children’s privacy laws. The FTC in September imposed a historic fine of $170 million for YouTube’s violations of COPPA (the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). It additionally required YouTube creators to now properly identify any child-directed content on the platform.

To comply with the ruling, YouTube created a system where creators could either label their entire channel as child-directed, or they could identify only certain videos as being directed at children, as needed. Videos that are considered child-directed content would then be prohibited from collecting personal data from viewers. This limited creators’ ability to leverage Google’s highly profitable behavioral advertising technology on videos kids were likely to watch.

As a result, YouTube creators have been in an uproar since the ruling, arguing that it’s too difficult to tell the difference between what’s child-directed content and what’s not. Several popular categories of YouTube videos — like gaming, toy reviews and family vlogging, for instance — fall under gray areas, where they’re watched by children and adults alike. But because the FTC’s ruling left creators held liable for any future violations, YouTube could only advise creators to consult a lawyer to help them work through the ruling’s impact on their own channels.

Today, YouTube says it’s asking the FTC to provide more clarity.

“Currently, the FTC’s guidance requires platforms must treat anyone watching primarily child-directed content as children under 13. This does not match what we see on YouTube, where adults watch favorite cartoons from their childhood or teachers look for content to share with their students,” noted YouTube in an announcement. “Creators of such videos have also conveyed the value of product features that wouldn’t be supported on their content. For example, creators have expressed the value of using comments to get helpful feedback from older viewers. This is why we support allowing platforms to treat adults as adults if there are measures in place to help confirm that the user is an adult viewing kids’ content,” the company said.

Specifically, YouTube wants the FTC to clarify what’s to be done when adults are watching kids’ content. It also wants to know what’s to be done about content that doesn’t intentionally target kids — like videos in the gaming, DIY and art space, for example — if those videos end up attracting a young audience. Are these also to be labeled “made for kids,” even though that’s not their intention?, YouTube asks.

The FTC had shared some guidance in November, which YouTube passed along to creators. But YouTube says it’s not enough as it doesn’t help creators to understand what’s to be done about this “mixed audience” content.

YouTube says it supports platforms treating adults who view primarily child-directed video content as adults, as long as there are measures in place to help confirm the user is an adult. It didn’t suggest what those measures would be, though possibly this could involve users logged in to an adult-owned Google account or perhaps an age-gate measure of some sort.

YouTube submitted its statements as a part of the FTC’s comment period on the agency’s review of the COPPA Rule, which has been extended until December 11, 2019. The FTC is giving commenters additional time to submit comments and an alternative mechanism to file them as the federal government’s Regulations.gov portal is temporarily inaccessible. Instead, commenters can submit their thoughts via email to the address [email protected], with the subject line “COPPA comment.” These must be submitted before 11:59 PM ET on December 11, the FTC says.

YouTube’s announcement, however, pointed commenters to the FTC’s website, which isn’t working right now.

“We strongly support COPPA’s goal of providing robust protections for kids and their privacy. We also believe COPPA would benefit from updates and clarifications that better reflect how kids and families use technology today, while still allowing access to a wide range of content that helps them learn, grow and explore. We continue to engage on this issue with the FTC and other lawmakers (we previously participated in the FTC’s public workshop) and are committed to continue [sic] doing so,” said YouTube.

Fabric’s new app helps parents with the hard stuff, including wills, life insurance & shared finances

A new app called Fabric aims to make it simpler for parents to plan for their family’s long-term financial well-being. The goal is to offer parents a one-stop-shop that includes the ability to ability for term life insurance from their phone, create a free will in about five minutes, and collaborate with a spouse or partner to organize key financial accounts or other important documents. In addition, parents are able to coordinate with beneficiaries, children’s guardians, attorneys, financial advisors, and others right from the app.

Fabric was originally founded in 2015 by Adam Erlebacher, previously the COO at online bank Simple, and Steven Surgnier, previously the Director of Data at Simple. The company last year raised a $10 million Series A led by Bessemer Venture Partners, after having sold life insurance coverage to thousands of families.

Since launch, Fabric has expanded beyond life insurance to offer other services, like easy will creation and the addition of tools that help families organize their financial and legal information in one place. The idea, the company explained at the time, was to offer today’s busy parents a better alternative to meetings with agents to discuss complicated life insurance products. Instead, the company offers a simple, 10-minute life insurance application and the option to connect with a licensed team if they need additional help, as well as a similarly simplified will creation workflow.

As with the founders’ earlier company, Simple, which offered a better front-end to banking while actual bank accounts were held elsewhere, Fabric’s life insurance policies are issued by “A” rated insurer, Vantis Life, not Fabric itself.

However, until now, Fabric’s suite of services were only available on the web. They’re now offered in an app for added convenience. The app is initially available on iOS with an Android version in the works.

“Money can be especially stressful when you’re trying to build a family and a career,” said Fabric co-founder and CEO Adam Erlebacher. “In one survey by Everyday Health, 52% of respondents said financial issues regularly stress them out, and people between the ages of 38 to 53 were the most stressed out financially. Parents want to have more control over their families’ long-term financial well-being and today’s dusty old products and tools are failing them,” he added.

Using the Fabric app, parents can take advantage of any of its offerings, including the option to apply for life insurance from the phone and get immediate approval. The app also makes it possible to share the policy information with beneficiaries, so it doesn’t get lost.

Another feature lets you create your will for free, and share that information with key people as well, including the witnesses you need to coordinate with in order to finalize the will, for example. And a spouse can choose to mirror your will, which speeds up the process of creating a second one with the same set of choices.

Fabric also helps to address an issue that often only comes up after it’s too late or in other emergency situations — organizing both parents’ finances in a single place. Many working adults today have not just a bank account, but also have investment accounts, 401Ks, IRAs, and credit cards, or a combination of those. But their partner may not know where to find this information or where the accounts are held.

The app, which we put through its paces (but didn’t purchase life insurance through), is very easy to use. It starts off with a short quiz to get a handle on your financial picture. It then delivers you to a personalized homescreen with a checklist of suggestions of what to do next. Naturally, this includes the life insurance application, as this is where Fabric’s revenue lies. And if you’re lacking a will and have other fiances to organize, these are featured, too.

The online forms are easy to fill out, despite the smartphone’s reduced screen space compared with a web browser, and Fabric has taken the time to get the small touches right — like when you enter a phone number, the numeric keypad appears, for example, or the integration of address lookup so you can just tap on the match and have the rest autofill. It also saves your work in progress, so you can finish later in case you get interrupted — as parents often do. And it explains terms, like “executor,” so you know what sort of rights you’re assigning.

Given its focus, Fabric protects user information with bank-grade security, including 256-bit encryption, two-factor authentication, automatic lockouts, biometrics, and other adaptive security features.

Fabric isn’t alone in helping parents and others financially plan wills and more from their iPhone. Other apps exist in this space, including will planning apps from Tomorrow, LegalZoom, Qwill, and others. Plus many insurers offer a mobile experience. Fabric is unique because it puts wills, insurance, and other tools into a single destination, without complicating the user interface.

Fabric’s app is a free download on the App Store. 

CBS All Access launches kids’ programming, soon to include Nickelodeon shows

CBS’s over-the-top streaming service, CBS All Access, is the latest to counter the threat from Disney+ by investing in children’s programming. Today, the company is launching a kids’ programming lineup including original shows and other library content. Plus, in one of the first major content integrations ahead of the ViacomCBS merger, the CBS streaming service will soon add a selection of Nickelodeon children’s TV shows to its catalog.

The first Nickelodeon titles will roll out in January, the company says.

In August, CBS had announced plans to launch children’s programming on its service by way of deals with WildBrain (formerly DHX Media) and Boat Rocker Studios. From WildBrain, CBS licensed the kids’ TV series “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” produced with Sony Pictures Animation. And from Boat Rocker, CBS licensed the new “Danger Mouse,” produced with BBC Children’s Productions.

The two shows are the first original children’s series on the service, which today is better known for its original programming aimed at adults, like “Star Trek: Discovery,” “The Good Fight,” “The Twilight Zone,” and soon “Star Trek: Picard.”

Today, the two originals are now live for subscribers alongside a library of kids’ content that includes “Bob the Builder,” “Inspector Gadget,” “Madeline,” “Heathcliff,” “The Adventures of Paddington Bear,” and the original “Danger Mouse.”

Over the next several weeks, CBS says it plans to grow its kids’ library to over 1,000 episodes as more TV series are added.

“Bringing children’s programming to CBS All Access is a significant step toward providing even more value for our subscribers and now for their children as well,” said Marc DeBevoise, President and COO, CBS Interactive, in a statement. “We’re bringing to market a fantastic roster of exclusive originals along with a library of marquee series for families, and we look forward to continuing to expand our children’s programming offering, especially with the future addition of incredible programming from Nickelodeon.”

The company did not specify which titles from Nickelodeon would come to CBS All Access, but it’s possible the lineup could include shows like “SpongeBob SquarePants” or “Dora the Explorer,” which went over to Amazon Prime Video after Viacom pulled them off Netflix back in 2013. Today, some of the early seasons of those shows and others are available as part of Amazon Prime’s free streaming perk, while later seasons can only be rented or purchased.

“Spongebob,” “Dora,” and other classic Nickelodeon kids’ shows are not included in Nickelodeon’s new agreement with Netflix, which is focused on new, original content using both well-known characters and all-new IP. According to The NYT, that deal was valued at $200 million.

It would make sense for CBS All Access to eventually absorb Viacom’s kids’ streaming service Noggin, which is where you can today find “Dora,” along with other shows like “PAW Patrol,” “Peppa Pig, “Team Umizoomi,” “Wallykazam,” “Bubble Guppies,” “Rusty Rivets,” “Blue’s Clues,” “Blaze,” “Shimmer & Shine,” “Max & Ruby,” “Wonder Pets,” “Nia Hao, Kai-Lan,” and several others. This would round out CBS All Access as a more family-friendly streaming service with a wide catalog, which would help it to better compete with Netflix, Hulu and of course, Disney+.

As a combined entity, it doesn’t make sense for ViacomCBS to ask its customer base to subscribe to both services or choose between them. And Noggin, in particular, doesn’t make sense given the higher churn rate for a service which only appeals to families with younger kids — who age out of the service after a few years. It would be better to put these shows in front of the larger CBS All Access audience, helping it to tout a larger catalog in marketing materials and attract a wider group of cord-cutting consumers.

Google’s parental control software Family Link gains much-needed features

Google’s parental control software, Family Link, is getting a noteworthy update today with the addition of new features that will allow parents to limit screen time per app, instead of the device as a whole, as well as let them more easily extend screen time as needed. The features were first announced at Google’s I/O developer conference this spring, and help to make Family Link a more complete parental control and screen-time solution.

While the simplest way to manage screen time is to just not give kids a device in the first place, it’s not the most realistic. As parents, we need to teach our kids to navigate the world — and that means we have to show them how to establish a healthy, non-addictive relationship with technology, too. Certain apps make that more difficult, as they’ve been intentionally designed to steal our focus for long periods of time. Even as adults, many of us struggle with this same problem.

For years, platform makers like Apple and Google were complicit with regard to users’ app addictions. They were thrilled about the success of the third-party developers and the money they brought in. Only more recently have these companies realized that their popular devices are starting to be seen as the digital equivalent of junk food — sure, it fuels you. But it’s bad for your health and should be limited. And that, of course, is bad for business. Hence, the arrival of screen-time and digital well-being features.

Family Link is not a perfect system, but it now comes built-in to Android devices with Android 10 and up, and can be downloaded as a standalone app from Google Play if you don’t have it available. It’s to Google’s credit that it has integrated it now into the core mobile OS, where it’s easier to find and use.

family link

Already, it’s able to do things like set device “bedtimes,” track activity per app, set daily limits, view the device’s location on the map and ring it (you’ll need Family Link for this feature alone) and more.

But what was sorely lacking was the ability to more narrowly define how a child’s screen time should be used.

Today, there are plenty of educational apps — from flashcards to study guides to Kindle books — that kids don’t deserve to be locked out from just because they’ve used their phone over a certain number of hours per day. And as a parent myself, I was hesitant to enforce daily limits in Family Link because it locked my child out of her phone entirely, except for the ability to make calls. She just as often uses texting to reach me, so I didn’t want to cut her off from that ability.

With the new per-app limits, you’ll be able to limit how long each individual app on the device can be used.

That means I can drastically trim the number of hours per week she spends on TikTok and YouTube (sorry, not sorry, Google!), or in mobile games. It also now means that chores around the house aren’t tied to “screen time” as a whole, but time in a favorite app, like Roblox. (Oh, the motivation!)

However, per-app limits will require a lot of manual labor on parents’ part. I don’t mind the extra work, because I appreciate the granular control, but a lot of parents would be better-served by category-based limits. (e.g. “mobile gaming.”) This could be something Google addresses in a future update.

bonus time

The other update rolling out today is Bonus Time, which lets you up the amount of screen time in sort of a one-off situation.

For example, if the child is in the middle of something and just needs a few more minutes, you can now grant this extra time without having to disable the screen-time setting. You’ll know screen time is running out because the child gets warnings at 15 minutes, 5 minutes and 1 minute. And they’ll be sure to tell you about this.

These updates are rolling out today to the cross-platform Family Link service. Parents can control Family Link settings from their Android or iOS device, and the child can use an Android or Chrome device.

Ahead of FTC ruling, YouTube Kids is getting its own website

Ahead of the official announcement of an FTC settlement which could force YouTube to direct under-13-year-old users to a separate experience for YouTube’s kid-friendly content, the company has quietly announced plans to launch its YouTube Kids service on the web. Previously, parents would have to download the YouTube Kids app to a mobile device in order to access the filtered version of YouTube.

By bringing YouTube Kids to the web, the company is prepared for the likely outcome of an FTC settlement which would require the company to implement an age-gate on its site, then redirect under-13-year-olds to a separate kid-friendly experience.

In addition, YouTube Kids is gaining a new filter which will allow parents to set the content to being preschooler-appropriate.

The announcement, published to the YouTube Help forums, was first spotted by Android Police.

It’s unclear if YouTube was intentionally trying to keep these changes from being picked up on by a larger audience (or the press) by publishing the news to a forum instead of its official YouTube blog. (The company tells us it publishes a lot of news the forum site. Sure, okay. But with an FTC settlement looming, it seems an odd destination for such a key announcement.)

It’s also worth noting that, around the same time as the news was published, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki posted her quarterly update for YouTube creators.

The update is intended to keep creators abreast of what’s in store for YouTube and its community. But this quarter, her missive spoke solely about the value in being an open platform, and didn’t touch on anything related to kids content or the U.S. regulator’s investigation.

However, it’s precisely YouTube’s position on “openness” that concerns parents when it comes to their kids watching YouTube videos. The platform’s (almost) “anything goes” nature means kids can easily stumble upon content that’s too adult, controversial, hateful, fringe, or offensive.

The YouTube Kids app is meant to offer a safer destination, but YouTube isn’t manually reviewing each video that finds its way there. That has led to inappropriate and disturbing content slipping through the cracks on numerous occasions, and eroding parents’ trust.

youtube kids website

Because many parents don’t believe YouTube Kids’ algorithms can filter content appropriately, the company last fall introduced the ability for parents to whitelist specific videos or channels in the Kids app. It also rolled out a feature that customized the app’s content for YouTube’s older users, ages 8 through 12. This added gaming content and music videos.

Now, YouTube is further breaking up its “Younger” content level filter, which was previously 8 and under, into two parts. Starting now, “Younger” applies to ages 5 through 7, while the new “Preschool” filter is for the age 4 and under group. The latter will focus on videos that promote “creativity, playfulness, learning, and exploration,” says YouTube.

Above: the content filter before

YouTube confirmed to TechCrunch that its forum announcement is accurate, but the company would not say when the YouTube Kids web version would go live, beyond “this week.”

The YouTube Kids changes are notable because they signal that YouTube is getting things in place before an FTC settlement announcement that will impact how the company handles kids content and its continued use by young children.

It’s possible that YouTube will be fined by the FTC for its violations of COPPA, as Musical.ly (TikTok) was earlier this year. One report, citing unnamed sources, says the FTC’s YouTube settlement has, in fact, already been finalized and includes a multimillion-dollar fine.

YouTube will also likely be required to implement an age-gate on its site and in its apps that will direct under-13-year-olds to the YouTube Kids platform instead of YouTube proper. The settlement may additionally require YouTube to stop targeting ads on videos aimed at children, as has been reported by Bloomberg. 

We probably won’t see the FTC issuing a statement about its ruling ahead of this Labor Day weekend, but it may do so in advance of its October workshop focused on refining the COPPA regulation — an event that has the regulator looking for feedback on how to properly handle sites like YouTube.

 

 

TikTok is being investigated in the U.K. for how it handles children’s data and safety

TikTok is being investigated in the U.K. for how it handles the safety and personal data of underage users. According to the Guardian, information commissioner Elizabeth Denham told a parliamentary committee that the probe started in February, after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission levied a $5.7 million fine against TikTok for breaking children’s privacy law.

Denham told the Guardian that the commission is examining how TikTok collects private data and concerns about the open messaging system, which may allow adult users to contact children. “We are looking at the transparency tools for children. We’re looking at the messaging system, which is completely open, we’re looking at the kind of videos that are collected and shared by children online. We do have an active investigation into TikTok right now, so watch this space,” she said.

The investigation will also examine if the popular app, owned by ByteDance, violates the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires companies to put special protections in place for underage users and provide them with different services than adults.

The FTC’s investigation, which began when TikTok was still known as Musical.ly, ruled that the app broke the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by failing to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses and other personal information from users under 13. The ruling resulted in an age gate being added to an app that prevents users under 13 from filming and posting videos on it.

ByteDance, the Chinese media startup now valued at $75 billion, told the Guardian in a statement that “We cooperate with organizations such as the ICO to provide relevant information about our product to support their work. Ensuring data protection principles are upheld as a top priority for TikTok.”

U.S. Senator and consumer advocacy groups urge FTC to take action on YouTube’s alleged COPPA violations

The groups behind a push to get the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate YouTube’s alleged violation of children’s privacy law, COPPA, have today submitted a new letter to the FTC that lays out the appropriate sanctions the groups want the FTC to now take. The letter comes shortly after news broke that the FTC was in the final stages of its probe into YouTube’s business practices regarding this matter.

They’re joined in pressing the FTC to act by COPPA co-author, Senator Ed Markey, who penned a letter of his own, which was also submitted today.

The groups’ formal complaint with the FTC was filed back in April 2018. The coalition, which then included 20 child advocacy, consumer and privacy groups, had claimed YouTube doesn’t get parental consent before collecting the data from children under the age of 13 — as is required by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, also known as COPPA.

The organizations said, effectively, that YouTube was hiding behind its terms of service which claims that YouTube is “not intended for children under 13.”

This simply isn’t true, as any YouTube user knows. YouTube is filled with videos that explicitly cater to children, from cartoons to nursery rhymes to toy ads — the latter which often come about by way of undisclosed sponsorships between toy makers and YouTube stars. The video creators will excitedly unbox or demo toys they received for free or were paid to feature, and kids just eat it all up.

In addition, YouTube curates much of its kid-friendly content into a separate YouTube Kids app that’s designed for the under-13 crowd — even preschoolers.

Meanwhile, YouTube treats children’s content like any other. That means targeted advertising and commercial data collection are taking place, the groups’ complaint states. YouTube’s algorithms also recommend videos and autoplay its suggestions — a practice that led to kids being exposed to inappropriate content in the past.

Today, two of the leading groups behind the original complaint — the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) — are asking the FTC to impose the maximum civil penalties on YouTube because, as they’ve said:

Google had actual knowledge of both the large number of child-directed channels on YouTube and the large numbers of children using YouTube. Yet, Google collected personal information from nearly 25 million children in the U.S over a period of years, and used this data to engage in very sophisticated digital marketing techniques. Google’s wrongdoing allowed it to profit in two different ways: Google has not only made a vast amount of money by using children’s personal information as part of its ad networks to target advertising, but has also profited from advertising revenues from ads on its YouTube channels that are watched by children.

The groups are asking the FTC to impose a 20-year consent degree on YouTube.

They want the FTC to order YouTube to destroy all data from children under 13, including any inferences drawn from the data, that’s in Google’s possession. YouTube should also stop collecting data from anyone under 13, including anyone viewing a channel or video directed at children. Kids’ ages also need to be identified so they can be prevented from accessing YouTube.

Meanwhile, the groups suggest that all the channels in the Parenting and Family lineup, plus any other channels or video directed at children, be removed from YouTube and placed into a separate platform for children. (e.g. the YouTube Kids app).

This is something YouTube is already considering, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal last week.

This separate kids platform would have a variety restrictions, including no commercial data collection; no links out to other sites or online services; no targeted marketing; no product or brand integration; no influencer marketing; and even no recommendations or autoplay.

The removal of autoplaying videos and recommendations, in particular, would be a radical change to how YouTube operates, but one that could protect kids from inappropriate content that slips in. It’s also a change that some employees inside YouTube itself were vying for, according to The WSJ’s report. 

The groups also urge the FTC to require Google to fund educational campaigns around the true nature of Google’s data-driven marketing systems, admit publicly that it violated the law, and submit to annual audits to ensure its ongoing compliance. They want Google to commit $100 million to establish a fund that supports the production of noncommercial, high-quality and diverse content for kids.

Finally, the groups are asking that Google faces the maximum possible civil penalties —  $42,530 per violation, which could be counted as either per child or per day. This monetary relief needs to be severe, the groups argue, so Google and YouTube will be deterred from ever violating COPPA in the future.

While this laundry list of suggestions is more like a wish list of what the ideal resolution would look like, it doesn’t mean that the FTC will follow through on all these suggestions.

However, it seems likely that the Commission would at least require YouTube to delete the improperly collected data and isolate the kids’ YouTube experience in some way. After all, that’s precisely what it just did with Tik Tok (previously Musical.ly) which earlier this year paid a record $5.7 million fine for its own COPPA violations. It also had to implement an age gate where under-13 kids were restricted from publishing content.

The advocacy groups aren’t the only ones making suggestions to the FTC.

Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also sent the FTC a letter today about YouTube’s violations of COPPA — a piece of legislation that he co-authored.

In his letter, he urges the FTC take a similar set of actions, saying:

“I am concerned that YouTube has failed to comply with COPPA. I therefore, urge the Commission to use all necessary resources to investigate YouTube, demand that YouTube pay all monetary penalties it owes as a result of any legal violations, and instruct YouTube to institute policy changes that put children’s well-being first.”

His suggestions are similar to those being pushed by the advocacy groups. They include demands for YouTube to delete the children’s data and cease data collection on those under 13; implement an age gate on YouTube to come into compliance with COPPA; prohibit targeted and influencer marketing; offer detailed explanations of what data is collected if for “internal purposes;” undergo a yearly audit; provide documentation of compliance upon request; and establish a fund for noncommercial content.

He also wants Google to sponsor a consumer education campaign warning parents that no one under 13 should use YouTube and want Google to be prohibited from launching any new child-directed product until it’s been reviewed by an independent panel of experts.

The FTC’s policy doesn’t allow it to confirm or deny nonpublic investigations. YouTube hasn’t yet commented on the letters.

Now on Kickstarter, Tech DIY uses sewing to teach kids how to build electronics

Tech DIY takes a soft touch toward teaching electronics—literally. Now on Kickstarter, the kit uses sewing to teach kids and adult beginners about electronic and electric circuits by sewing dolls, soft figures and bracelets that light up, move and make noises.

Tech DIY was created by Ji Sun Lee and Jaymes Dec, the authors of “Tech DIY, Easy Electronics Projects for Parents and Kids,” published in 2016 by Maker Media. While working on her master’s thesis and thinking of ways to close the gender gap in technology, Lee began exploring the idea of using textile crafts to teach electronics for her master’s thesis.

Dec is a fab lab teacher at a girls’ private school, while Lee is a professor at a women’s college in Korea. “I also worked in the IT industry for many years, where it had very few women employees. Although both of us teach technology, we feel that the educational content created for female users is minimal and marginalized,” Lee said.

Lee and Dec decided to use sewing for their projects since many women and girls are already familiar with textile crafts. There are already kits that combine electronics with textiles, like Lily Pad and Adafruit’s Flora, which both use Arduino, but the programming required for their micro-controllers is too complicated for most novices, Lee said. Tech DIY’s kits are designed for elementary and middle school students, as well as adult beginners. They can be built with basic sewing skills and the projects increase in complexity, allowing new makers to level up.

Tech DIY's Nightlight Cat Bracelet project

Tech DIY’s Nightlight Cat Bracelet project

Two kits are available for Kickstarter backers. The Joy Kit contains five projects, including an embroidery sampler called My Happy House that teaches about electricity, circuits and basic electronic components, and the Purring Elephant, a pillow that uses a motor to move and vibrate. The Awesome Kit is for more experienced makers and includes components for projects like the Nightlight Cat Bracelet, which uses a light sensor and transistor to light up in the dark, and the Solar Sun Project, powered with solar panels instead of batteries. (If you want to see how the projects are put together, check out the instructions for A Silly Ghost, the Nightlight Cat Bracelet and Purring Elephant Bracelet, which are all available for free online.)

The kits include all necessary components for the projects, thick, high-quality felt and what Lee and Dec describe as the “best conductive thread on the planet.”

As of this post, the Kickstarter campaign has reached more than $18,300 of its $30,000 goal, with less than two days left. After the campaign, Lee and Dec plan to make kits available for sale through Etsy. While Maker Media, the publisher of “Tech DIY, Easy Electronics Projects for Parents and Kids,” recently paused operations due to financial issues, the book is still available for purchase as a PDF through Maker Shed or as a Kindle edition or paperback on Amazon.

Eyeing an entry into China, Roblox enters strategic partnership with Tencent

Kids gaming platform Roblox has its sights set on China with today’s news that it has entered into a strategic relationship with Chinese tech giant, Tencent. The companies announced a strategic partnership that will initially focus on education — specifically, coding fundamentals, game design, digital citizenship, and entrepreneurial skills.

The joint venture — still unnamed — will be based in Shenzhen, Roblox says. And its eventual goal is to bring Roblox to China. This is something Roblox has been steadily working towards ahead of today, most recently by adding support for Chinese languages and making its coding curriculum available for free in Chinese.

The first initiative from the new JV will be a scholarship fund that sponsors 15 young developers, who will fly to the U.S. to attend a week-long creator camp at Stanford University. The camp, taught by iD Tech, will teach the students game design, including how to create 3D worlds, along with programming fundaments using Roblox’s developer tools and Lua code.

Roblox and Tencent, together with the China Association for Educational Technology (CAET), are calling for applications from creators ages 10 through 15. Teachers will be encouraged to nominate their students, who can apply online on Roblox’s website. The submissions close on June 14, and scholarship recipients will be notified on June 28.

The first camp will run the week of July 23, and a second session will run the week of August 18. During camp, students will work, eat and stay at Stanford.

“I’m extremely excited to partner with Roblox,” said Steven Ma, Senior Vice President of Tencent, in a statement. “We believe technological advancement will help Chinese students learn by fueling their creativity and imagination. Our partnership with Roblox provides an engaging way to reach children of all ages across China to develop skills like coding, design, and entrepreneurship.”

“Tencent is the perfect partner for Roblox in China,” added Roblox Founder and CEO Dave Baszucki. “They have a deep understanding of the Chinese market and share our belief of the power of digital creation and our vision to bring the world together through play.”

The multi-year JV will continue to invest in educational initiatives, including local coding camps, training programs for instructors to build custom courses, and more.

Unlike other gaming companies, Roblox has to do more than just finding a way into China with the help of a local partner — it also has to create an active community of game creators in the region. That’s because Roblox is a gaming platform, not a game maker itself. Instead, third-party creators build their own games on Roblox for others to play.

Roblox gets a share of the revenue the games make through sales of virtual goods.

In 2017, Roblox said paid out $30 million to its creator community, and noted that number would more than double in 2018. In April, Roblox noted that game players and creators now spend more than a billion hours per month on its platform. Now valued at over $2.5 billion, Roblox claims more 90 million monthly active users — a number that could dramatically increase if Roblox launched in China.