“YouTube is under no obligation to host or serve content,” the new terms of service policy reads.
It’s another way of saying that just because YouTube is a relatively open platform, it doesn’t mean that the company is required to keep videos up.
YouTube has faced criticism from all sides over its video removal process. Some critics argue that YouTube could do more to take down videos that butt up against the company’s rules but don’t outright violate them; others argue that YouTube ought to be a fully open platform and shouldn’t control what remains up and what doesn’t. Executives have long defended the platform as a champion of free speech, but have started to clamp down on the type of videos allowed to circulate.
Companies update their terms of service all the time — this is YouTube’s third change just in 2019. These latest updates seemingly coincide with upcoming changes YouTube will make in accordance with new Federal Trade Commission guidelines for YouTube, although a YouTube rep denies these changes were made because of the FTC ruling.
Specifically, many of the updates center around who’s using the platform and protection for children. In September, the Federal Trade Commission issued a $170 million fine against Google for alleged violations of the children’s online privacy protection act (COPPA). YouTube also agreed to make changes to further protect children’s privacy and comply with the law.
YouTube said the terms of service are being changed “in order to make them easier to read and to ensure they’re up to date,” a spokesperson told The Verge.
“We’re not changing the way our products work, how we collect or process data, or any of your settings,” the spokesperson added.
Other changes just seem to give YouTube more power. One of the most controversial clauses that creators have tweeted about since YouTube began alerting people to the upcoming changes has to do with termination. Various YouTubers have tweeted out a segment from the terms of service that states “YouTube may terminate your access, or your Google account’s access to all or part of the service if YouTube believes, in its sole discretion, that provision of the service to you is no longer commercially viable.” Some creators have read this as saying that YouTube can simply terminate channels and accounts if they’re not earning revenue.
A version of that line has been in YouTube’s terms of service since early 2018, however. This update just modifies the wording to give YouTube more leeway to make the determination. It now says that YouTube has the “sole discretion” to terminate an account, whereas before it said that YouTube must “reasonably believe” it should do so. A YouTube spokesperson told The Verge that the company is “also not changing how we work with creators, nor their rights over their works, or their right to monetize.”