YouTube illegally collects data on children, say child protection groups

While we all wait to find out today if we're one of the 87 million people whose data Mark Zuckerberg and Co have been sharing around, Google's next in the data privacy sights as YouTube is accused of harvesting data on millions of children. But there are easy ways to get around it - parents can let their children use their accounts, kids can watch YouTube videos without logging in, or underaged viewers can lie about their age while creating an account.

COPPA is a set of regulations which bind websites and operators with users that are under 13 years of age, as well as those which may be collecting data from children.

YouTube has been accused of violating U.S. child protection laws by 23 consumer and child safety groups who filed a complaint (pdf) with the Federal Trade Commission this week. The group, which includes the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), argues that YouTube does not meet the requirements of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

The advocates contend that YouTube has collected data from nearly 25 million children and note that under the law the FTC could fine Google as much as $41,484 per individual violation. Eighty percent of American 6 - 12 year olds use YouTube, and in 2017, it was the most recognizable brand among kids 6 - 12.

"Just like Facebook, Google has focused its huge resources on generating profits instead of protecting privacy", Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy added.

But actions and ad contracts speak louder than fine-printed privacy policies.

Common Sense Media, another group involved in the complaint alleges that YouTube Kids does nothing to help the situation considering all of its content is available on the main site, as well as much, much more.

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Other experts acknowledge that there's a problem but don't think Google is at fault.

This is not the first time YouTube has been under the watch for child-related issues. The proliferation of children's' videos on YouTube and the potential harm that came from having them mixed in with more adult-oriented content is what led YouTube to launch the YouTube Kids app several years ago. The Mountain View company, on its part, has been bucking the legal obligation claiming YouTube is only meant for children above the age of 13.

"We will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve", said the spokesperson.

This news comes on the back of an earlier story, via BuzzFeed, surrounding Google's efforts to make YouTube Kids a safer app for children to use on their own without adult supervision. YouTube Kids curation process ensures that only videos tagged appropriate for kids are allowed on the app; but parents might have different opinion about unnecessary repetition.

The FTC filing referenced channels including ChuChuTV Nursery Rhymes & Kids Songs-which has 16 million subscribers-and LittleBabyBum-which has 14.6 million subscribers-as two channels known to produce content specifically targeted at children.

"Children are watching this content by themselves".

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