Child holding tablet

YouTube failing to protect kids’ data, consumer groups argue

Image credit: Dreamstime

23 consumer advocacy groups have banded together to submit a statement to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), arguing that YouTube – a subsidiary of Google – has been violating a law forbidding the collection of children’s data without the consent of their parents.

The 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires a company to obtain parental permission before it can collect a child’s data, and sets out the responsibilities of those companies which collect this data. It is the only federal law regulating how children’s data may be handled online. The act was updated in 2012 to account for vastly increased use of mobile devices to browse the internet.

The coalition’s complaint states that YouTube has collected and profited from personal data collected from children under the age of 13 who are, in theory, not allowed to use the platform and are required to confirm their age before accessing content.

Younger children are directed to YouTube Kids, an app which only allows child-friendly content.

However, according to the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, 80 per cent of 6-12 year olds in the US use YouTube, and last year it was found to be the most recognised brand among young children. Google Preferred, Google’s platform for placing adverts on the most popular YouTube videos, allows advertisers to target child-targeted channels such as those focused on toy reviews.

According to the coalition of groups submitting the complaint, YouTube is still able to collect data on children under the age of 13 who use the unfiltered site. This type of tracking requires parental knowledge and consent, they say; particularly in order to tailor adverts to a viewer.

“Google has acted duplicitously by falsely claiming in its terms of service that YouTube is only for those who are age 13 or older, while it deliberately lured young people into an ad-filled digital playground,” said Jeff Chester, founder of the Center for Digital Democracy, in a statement.

“Just like Facebook, Google has focused its huge resources on generating profits instead of protecting privacy.”

The coalition of groups, which includes the Center for Digital Democracy, is pushing for an investigation and penalties from the FTC. The FTC has previously brought legal action against companies who have violated COPPA, including Hershey, American Pop Corn Company and UMG Recordings. The FTC has the authority to fine a company up to $40,000 per violation.

According to a statement, YouTube stated that protecting children and families was a “top priority” that stated that it had invested in YouTube Kids in order to offer an alternative to the unfiltered main site.

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