YouTube accused of illegally harvesting data about children on its site

YouTube has allegedly violated laws that protect children’s online privacy, according to a coalition of 23 privacy and consumer rights groups.

YouTube accused of illegally harvesting data about children on its site

The group, which includes Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, has filed a complaint to the US Federal Trade Comission (FTC) claiming Google has made substantial profits from collecting and using children’s personal data on the video site.

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In the US, collecting any personal information from children without acquiring prior consent from parents constitutes a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The coalition claims that although YouTube is incredibly popular among children aged 6-12, it has collected personal data on “tens of millions of US children” without giving notice or obtaining consent in order to sell targeted ads. The illegal activity has been going on “for many years”, it says.

“Child-directed channels such as ChuChuTV Nursery Rhymes & Kids Songs and Ryan ToysReview are among the most popular channels on YouTube,” the complaint reads. “Many of the top children’s channels are part of the Google Preferred ‘Parenting & Family’ lineup. Major advertisers pay Google a premium to guarantee that their ads will be placed on these popular YouTube channels.”

According to its privacy policy, personal information collected by YouTube includes geolocation data, unique device identifiers, phone numbers, and other persistent identifiers that can enable it to recognise a user over time. However, the complain claims there is no specific children’s privacy policy, and the platform makes no effort to notify or obtain consent from parents before storing children’s data.

A spokesperson for Google told Alphr that YouTube is not for children, and that all users under the age of 13 should use its “family-friendly” YouTube Kids app. 

“While we haven’t received the complaint, 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. 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.”

The company disables accounts that belong to those who are underage, and it also has clear ad policies to prevent data collecting and targetting of ads at those under the age of 13, the spokesperson claimed. 

The coalition hopes the FTC will investigate Google’s potential violations of COPPA and consider sanctions against the company, as well as monitoring the site’s future compliance.

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