Advocacy Groups Say YouTube Is Collecting and Profiting From Data on Children

YouTube is 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 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.

According to the group, 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 requiring companies to secure parents’ consent before collecting data on children younger than 13. The groups are asking the FTC to investigate Google, and also seeking a fine of up to “tens of billions” of dollars from Google for allegedly profiting off young users.

YouTube’s terms of service say 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 without an account or logging in. Furthermore, research by the boutique marketing firm, Trendera, shows that 45% of kids between 8- and 12-years-old have a YouTube account.

“Its 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 to a tech industry still reeling from the effects of Facebook’s massive data-breach scandal. And, as The Harris Poll recently uncovered through its annual Reputation Quotient survey, the reputations of Google and Apple fell in 2018. Google’s reputation dropped more than 10 points from #8 in 2017 to #28 this year.