YouTube may pay billions in FTC fines for profiting from kids’ data

April 12, 2018

This week, YouTube became the latest social media company to face public criticism for data collection—this time involving children. A coalition of 23 child advocacy and consumer privacy groups filed a complaint on April 10 with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission claiming that the video-sharing platform and its parent company, Google, violated child privacy laws by collecting personal data on kids under age 13.

Research by the boutique marketing firm,Trendera, has found that 45% of kids between the ages of eight and 12 have a YouTube account. What’s more, 24% of teens between ages 13 and 21 not only have an account; they also have a vlog or YouTube channel.

According to the coalition, led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, Google infringed on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law passed in January 2013, requiring companies to secure parents’ consent before collecting data on children younger than 13.

The complainants are asking the FTC to investigate Google, and also are seeking a fine of up to “tens of billions” of dollars from Google for allegedly profiting off young users.

According to YouTube’s terms of service, the main site and app are for viewers 13 and older. Younger children are directed to the separate YouTube Kids app, which contains filtered videos from the main site. However, anyone can watch YouTube videos, either without an account or by logging in.

“It’s illegal collection has been going on for many years and involves tens of millions of US children,” reads the coalition’s complaint. “Many children watch YouTube on mobile devices, decreasing the likelihood that they are co-viewing with their parents.”

The advocacy groups’ call for an “enforcement action against Google” is another hit against a tech industry that still is staggering under the effects of Facebook’s massive data-breach scandal. As The Harris Poll recently found through its annual Reputation Quotient survey, the Google’s reputation dropped more than 10 points—from number eight in 2017 to number 28 this year.

Research contact: Hellonyc@harrisinsights.com

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