Published: Tue, April 10, 2018
Technology | By Russell Knight

YouTube accumulating children's data, claims consumer groups

According to the coalition, YouTube collects personal information on child users including location and device identifiers, as well as tracking them across different websites and services, all without first gaining parental consent, which is required by the US Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The complaint arrives at a time when there's a heightened awareness and concern over the data collection and data privacy practices of major tech companies in the USA, as well as how those systems can be compromised by foreign governments.

In short: Despite the presence of literally millions of child-directed videos, and despite promising advertisers access to kids via YouTube ads, Google pretends that they aren't responsible for the children on YouTube. However, the latest findings suggest the website is prioritizing its profits instead of protecting privacy of its young devoted viewers. "The parties request that the FTC enjoin Google from committing further violations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act ("COPPA"), impose effective means for monitoring compliance, and assess civil penalties that demonstrate that the FTC will not permit violations of COPPA".

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"It seems like (the FTC) may be more reinvigorated and ready to take these issues seriously", said Josh Golin, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which drafted the complaint along with the Center for Digital Democracy and a Georgetown University law clinic.

Google said that while it had not received the complaint, "protecting kids and families has always been a top priority". She pointed to the company's "significant" investment in the YouTube Kids app, which the company launched in 2015 and is officially for children under 13. The streaming giant has come under fire when its algorithms failed to catch inappropriate content and deceptive ads in the supposedly child-appropriate app. YouTube has yet to respond to the complaint. "Google had actual knowledge of both the large number of child-directed channels on YouTube and the large numbers of children using YouTube". "It's time for the FTC to hold Google accountable". And, while YouTube asks a user to verify their age before making an account, having an account is not necessary to watch videos on the site.

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Both Google and the FTC told CNET they have yet to receive the complaint. It has a separate platform, YouTube Kids, for family-friendly content. The YouTube Kids app offers the same videos and channels as on the regular platform. The complaint also says that a children's channel is the second most popular channel on the video platform and that YouTube does not have a child privacy notice posted on its site.

YouTube's terms of use say users have to be 13 or older to create an account. Parents and consumer groups have also been scrutinizing YouTube since disturbing videos slipped by the filters on YouTube Kids (paywall), YouTube's platform for under 13-year-olds, and videos appearing to exploit children were featured on the main site.

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