Google to Pay $170 Million Settlement For Violating Children’s Privacy on YouTube

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Google to Pay $170 Million Settlement For Violating Children’s Privacy on YouTube

By Jessilyn Lancaster, Managing Editor

The Federal Trade Commission fined the Google-owned YouTube $170 million for violating children’s privacy. 

The FTC alleges YouTube violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule by collecting personal information—in the form of persistent identifiers that are used to track users across the Internet—from viewers of child-directed channels, without first notifying parents and getting their consent. 

YouTube earned millions of dollars by using the identifiers, commonly known as cookies, to deliver targeted ads to viewers of these channels.

Of the $170 million settlement, $136 million will go to the FTC, and the remainder will go to New York state. 

According to the complaint:

The defendants knew that the YouTube platform had numerous child-directed channels. YouTube marketed itself as a top destination for kids in presentations to the makers of popular children’s products and brands. For example, 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, which makes My Little Pony and Play-Doh, that YouTube is the “#1 website regularly visited by kids.”

Several channel owners told YouTube and Google that their channels’ content was directed to children, and in other instances YouTube’s own content rating system identified content as directed to children. In addition, according to the complaint, YouTube manually reviewed children’s content from its YouTube platform to feature in its YouTube Kids app. Despite this knowledge of channels directed to children on the YouTube platform, YouTube served targeted advertisements on these channels. According to the complaint, it even told one advertising company that it did not have users younger than 13 on its platform and therefore channels on its platform did not need to comply with COPPA.

Movieguide® previously reported that YouTube algorithms allowed for “soft pedophilia” to enter the recommended video categories. Mashable reports that in February, YouTube removed 400 channels that supported pedophilia as advertisers fled the platform.

Though it’s a record-breaking fine, some people say the punishment is not enough for the media giant. 

“The F.T.C. let Google off the hook with a drop-in-the-bucket fine and a set of new requirements that fall well short of what is needed to turn YouTube into a safe and healthy place for kids,” Senator Edward J. Markey, D-Massachusetts, said

“This obligation exceeds what any third party in the marketplace currently is required to do,” said FTC Chairman Joseph Simons and Commissioner Christine Wilson in a joint statement. “It represents the first and only mandated requirement on a platform or third party to seek actual knowledge of whether content is child-directed.”

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, one of nearly two dozen groups who filed a complaint about YouTube to the FTC last April, also found issue with the fine. 

“A paltry financial penalty of $170 million —from a company that earned nearly $137 billion in 2018 alone — sends a signal that if you are a politically powerful corporation, you do not have to fear any serious financial consequences when you break the law,” Chester said.

For parents concerned about their children’s media habits, Movieguide® suggests reading Dr. Ted Baehr’s “The Culture-Wise Family” and “The Media-Wise Family.”