YouTube, under fire since inception for building a business on other people’s copyrights and in recent years for its vacillating policies on irredeemable content, recently decided it no longer wants to host instructional hacking videos.
The written policy first appears in the Internet Wayback Machine’s archive of web history in an April 5, 2019 snapshot. It forbids: “Instructional hacking and phishing: Showing users how to bypass secure computer systems or steal user credentials and personal data.”
Lack of clarity about the permissibility of cybersecurity-related content has been an issue for years. In the past, hacking videos in years past could be removed if enough viewers submitted reports objecting to them or if moderators found the videos violated other articulated policies.
Now that there’s a written rule, there’s renewed concern about how the policy is being applied.
Kody Kinzie, a security researcher and educator who posts hacking videos to YouTube’s Null Byte channel, on Tuesday said a video created for the US July 4th holiday to demonstrate launching fireworks over Wi-Fi couldn’t be uploaded because of the rule.
“I’m worried for everyone that teaches about infosec and tries to fill in the gaps for people who are learning,” he said via Twitter. “It is hard, often boring, and expensive to learn cybersecurity.”
In an email to The Register, Kinzie clarified that YouTube had problems with three previous videos, which got flagged and are either in the process of review or have already been appealed and restored. They involved Wi-Fi hacking. One of the Wi-Fi hacking videos got a strike on Tuesday and that disabled uploading for the account, preventing the fireworks video from going up.
The Register asked Google’s YouTube for comment but we’ve not heard back.
Security professionals find the policy questionable. “Very simply, hacking is not a derogatory term and shouldn’t be used in a policy about what content is acceptable,” said Tim Erlin, VP of product management and strategy at cybersecurity biz Tripwire, in an email to The Register.
“Google’s intention here might be laudable, but the result is likely to stifle valuable information sharing in the information security community.”