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YouTube disables advertising and data collection on children’s content

Image credit: Fizkes - Dreamstime

YouTube has rolled out new protections for children viewing videos on its site, as part of an effort to satisfy US federal regulators who last year fined the company tens of millions of dollars over alleged privacy violations.

The changes, which include limitations on data collection and advertising, are a step towards addressing concerns from advocacy groups who complained the video service has breached the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which forbids tracking and targeting users aged 13 and under.

As part of the changes to the site, YouTube said it will seek to better distinguish which content is intended primarily for children, relying on a combination of self-identification from creators and software. Furthermore, under the new rules that the video-sharing platform has introduced, such content cannot run with personalised advertisements.

YouTube added it will assume any viewer of child-friendly content is underage, treating that data as subject to COPPA rules. It has also limited other features, such as comments on children’s videos and live chats.

The notification bell, save to playlist and save to watch features have also disappeared when watching children’s content. Cards on end screens of videos, channel branding watermarks and channel memberships have also been disabled, while creators are also unable to collect donations on children’s videos.

Despite these changes outlined, some privacy experts have argued they may not offer children enough protections from a company that has accrued reams of data on its users and is incentivised to compel viewers to stay on the site for as long as possible.

“There’s still a grey area for content that may not obviously be for children, but is mostly viewed by children,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group that was among those that filed complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about YouTube. “The burden is largely on creators to police the site and not enough on YouTube.”

The changes to the site come following an investigation under the FTC which resulted in YouTube paying a $170m (£129m) fine in September 2019 for violating COPPA, which requires websites and online services targeted at children under the age of 13 to follow certain standards and requirements for delivering content.

“Responsibility is our number one priority at YouTube, and this includes protecting kids and their privacy,” the company said in a blog post on Monday (6 January) announcing the changes.

After paying the fine, YouTube said it would impose a series of changes in four months that would “treat date from anyone watching children’s content on YouTube as coming from a child, regardless of the age of the user”.

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