Groups Hit YouTube With Complaint Over Data Gathering On Kids

Google has found itself at the centre of a data gathering row after a coalition of 23 child advocacy, consumer and privacy groups in the US filed an official complaint against YouTube.

The complaint to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleges that YouTube is violating child protection laws by collecting the personal data of, and advertising to, children under the age of 13.

This is not the first time that Google has found itself in hot water over this. In 2015 the Internet rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a complaint with the FTC against Google after it claims to have uncovered evidence that the search giant collected students personal data.

Data gathering

But the new complaint from the coalition deals with Google’s data collection and advertising to youngsters.

The group includes the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), the Centre for Digital Democracy and 21 other organisations, “ask the FTC to take enforcement action against Google for violating children’s privacy laws in operating the YouTube online video and advertising network services.”

Google has made substantial profits from the collection and use of personal data from children on YouTube, the complaint alleges. “Its illegal collection has been going on for many years and involves tens of millions of US children.”

“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,” the complaint adds.

Under American COPPA regulations, it is against the law for any operator of a website or online service to collect and disclose personal information from a child unless the operator gives parents notice of its data collection practices and obtains verifiable parental consent before collecting the data.

The complaint essentially alleges that despite Google claiming that YouTube is only for those aged 13 and above, it knows that children under that age use the site.

Indeed, it cited a 2017 survey that found that 80 percent of US children ages 6 -12 use YouTube daily.

“YouTube also has actual knowledge that many children are on YouTube, as evidenced by disclosures from content providers, public statements by YouTube executives, and the creation of the YouTube Kids app,” the complaint alleges.

YouTube response

“YouTube’s privacy policy discloses that it collects many types of personal information, including geolocation, unique device identifiers, mobile telephone numbers, and persistent identifiers used to recognize a user over time and across different websites or online services,” it said.

“YouTube collects this information from children under the age of 13, and uses it to target advertisements, without giving notice or obtaining advanced, verifiable parental consent as required by COPPA,” it concludes.

But YouTube has responded by insisting the protection of children is a top priority and said it would look at the complaint thoroughly.

“While we haven’t received the complaint, protecting kids and families has always been a top priority for us,” a YouTube spokesperson told the Guardian newspaper.

We will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve,” it added. “Because YouTube is not for children, we’ve invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app to offer an alternative specifically designed for children.”

YouTube has a standalone app for children, called YouTube Kids, which it launched in 2015.

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Tom Jowitt @TJowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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