If Facebook’s scandal wasn’t enough, YouTube has found itself facing similar allegations. The popular video sharing platform has been blamed by several advocacy groups for illegally collecting data about its juvenile viewers.
They demand that YouTube should to pay a hefty billion-dollar fine and improve its content policies for underage children.
According to the 20 or so advocacy groups that complained directly to the FTC, YouTube has been making tons of money over the years and has violated the clauses of Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), formed back in 1998. The Act prevents online entities from getting data of children aged below 13 unless they have consent from parents.
The complaint is led by Center for Digital Democracy and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. It reads,
Google has made substantial profits from the collection and use of personal data from children on YouTube. Its illegal collection has been going on for many years and involves tens of millions of US children.
If we check YouTube’s policies, children under 13 are not even allowed to make a Google Account. A Google Account is needed to sign into YouTube and unless you are above 13, Google does not allow you to do so.
However, the complainants say that YouTube is a free-to-use service and anyone can watch content on it without having to make an account.
Obviously, many kids either say that they are above 13 while making an account or simply use someone else’s account. A research shows that 45% of children that use YouTube and have Google Accounts are under 13.
Kids Love YouTube
YouTube has numerous channels dedicated to kids and these channels enjoy massive viewership and healthy profits. A channel called Ryan ToysReview made $11 million in ad revenue last year. It features a 6-year-old child named Ryan who does “unboxing” videos on toys.
Google, in its term of use, does not let advertisers target people under 18 but they can still be targeted with advertisements using keywords such as “toys”. The company, however, says that it strictly complies with COPPA and protecting its users’ privacy is its top concern.
Google even introduced a YouTube Kids app which entertains kids based on their specific age groups. The app does not collect any data and complies strictly with COPPA’s clauses. A Google spokesperson said,
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 plaintiffs recommended a $41,484 fine per violation. YouTube has been functional for years and if it really is ruled to be in violation to COPPA over the years, its total fine could amount to tens of billions.