YouTube is illegally gathering information on kids as they watch videos on the site, 20 advocacy groups allege.
The groups on Monday asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the Google subsidiary for violating the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The enforcement action advocates are pushing for fines of “tens of billions of dollars,” reports Mediapost.
COPPA, which took effect 18 years ago, limits how a company can collect data about kids under 13. Under COPPA, companies have to notify parents and get their consent before collecting data on children such as personal and geolocation information, unique device identifiers and mobile telephone numbers.
But that contract has been violated. “There is no question that a significant portion of YouTube is directed to children,” the complaint alleges. Advocates point to such popular “child-directed channels” such as LittleBabyBum and FunToys Collector Disney Toys Review.
“Google has made substantial profits from the collection and use of personal data from children on YouTube,” the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Public Citizen and 19 other organizations allege in a new complaint. “Its illegal collection has been going on for many years and involves tens of millions of U.S. children.”
In response, a YouTube spokesperson said the company hasn’t seen the complaint, Mediapost reports. But the rep added that “protecting kids and families has always been a top priority for us. We will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve.”
YouTube’s terms of service state that it isn’t intended for kids under age 13. As an alternative, there’s YouTube Kids, which launched in 2015 and doesn’t allow behaviorally targeted ads.
But based on study data, the advocates assert that more children watch clips on YouTube’s main site than the specialized YouTube Kids.
“There is no reason to think that YouTube treats information collected from children any differently than that collected from other users,” the complaint states, according to Mediapost. “Since YouTube collects personal information from all viewers … without first giving notice and obtaining parental consent, it is not in compliance with COPPA.”
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