Google and Youtube have settled a lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and New York Attorney General (NY AG)’s office for illegally collecting personal data from young children.
New York Attorney General Letitia James excoriated the companies over their behaviour, saying today that they had “risked children’s personal info and abused their powers for profits” by engaging in the behaviour.
Youtube Fined: Company Shakes Up Approach to Kids’ Content
The FTC and NY AG will receive $136 million and $34 million of the settlement, after being accused of using cookies to collect personal information from children without their parents permisson, then serve them targeted adverts. (The sum is approximately 0.125 percent of Google’s 2018 revenues).
As part of the agreement, YouTube will set up a system for channel owners to identify children’s content; and make sure that it obtains parental consent for any collected data used in its ads machine. It is also killing comments on children’s video channels, and ending targeted advertisements aimed at young watchers of Youtube, among a number of other changes.
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The fine is the largest the FTC has secured from a company for alleged breach of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule, and a reflection of the increasingly challenging regulatory climate for the tech giant as privacy headwinds blow increasingly strongly, however fiscally insignificant the fine may be to the company’s bottom line.
With the NY AG, the FTC had claimed Google and its subsidiary Youtube violated COPPA by collecting personal information (in the form of cookies, used to track users across the Internet) “from viewers of child-directed channels” without first notifying and gaining consent of parents.
We reached a record $170M settlement with Youtube & Google for violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act for serving targeted ads to users watching videos meant for children.
These companies risked children's personal info & abused their powers for profits.
— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) September 4, 2019
Google responded to the fine today with a blog on its Youtube blog channel, saying: “We are changing how we treat data for children’s content on YouTube. Starting in four months, we will treat data from anyone watching children’s content on YouTube as coming from a child, regardless of the age of the user.”
Despite just today claiming in its post that Youtube “from its earliest days has been a site for people over 13”, the FTC found that Google and YouTube told Mattel, maker of Barbie and Monster High toys, that “YouTube is today’s leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels” and told Hasbro that YouTube is the “#1 website regularly visited by kids.”
As a result of the investigation, Youtube will also stop serving personalised ads on children’s content entirely, and some features will no longer be available on this type of content, like comments and notifications, it added.
It will also use machine learning “to find videos that clearly target young audiences, for example those that have an emphasis on kids characters, themes, toys, or games.”
Youtube said: “We know these changes will have a significant business impact on family and kids creators who have been building both wonderful content and thriving businesses, so we’ve worked to give impacted creators four months to adjust before changes take effect on YouTube.”
Banner image credit Ludovic Toinel, Creative Commons, Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/@ltoinel