A complaint filed to the Federal Trade Commission last week by a group of 23 consumers, child safety and privacy advocacy groups claims that YouTube collects data from children under the age of 13.
The 59-page complaint, which can be accessed online, alleges that Google, which owns YouTube, makes substantial profits by collecting various types of personal information on kids and uses it to their advantage.
The groups involved are accusing Google of acquiring information like geolocation, unique device identifiers, mobile telephone numbers, and persistent identifiers without notifying the child’s parent or obtaining consent of the parents. Google then uses this info to recognize a user's behavior and use that information through targeted advertisements directed to kids across the internet.
“Google has acted duplicitously by falsely claiming in its terms of service that YouTube is only for those who are age 13 or older, while it deliberately lured young people into an ad-filled digital playground," said Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy, one of the leading advocacy groups in the coalition. "Just like Facebook, Google has focused its huge resources on generating profits instead of protecting privacy."
Because they are allegedly collecting data from children under the age of 13, that would mean YouTube would be violating the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which was put into place in 1998 by Congress.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA protects personal information for children, which includes things like first and last name, telephone numbers, photos of the child, persistent identifiers, geolocation information and online contact information.
If these allegations are true, YouTube would be in violation of taking multiple forms of personal information from the list and according to DailyMail.com, could be fined billions of dollars if they are found to be guilty.
This latest privacy concern comes after the Facebook scandal, which involved the collection of personally identifiable information of up to 87 million Americans that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, used to sway voter opinion.
Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder, chief executive officer and chairman of Facebook has been facing a lot of heat lately and was recently grilled with questions by U.S. Congress; YouTube is trying to make sure they don’t face the same fate.
YouTube reassured everyone that the popular platform is for users 13 years or older and that while they had not received the complaint, “protecting kids and families has always been a top priority.”
"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," a YouTube spokesperson said.
But is “improving” enough? Shouldn’t YouTube have held themselves to the standards and ethics that the FTC requires them to? If it is found that YouTube did in fact use information from children under the age of 13, they should face actual punishments to show Americans that these laws aren’t useless and that they actually do care about our privacy.
It is absolutely wrong in my mind for any group, especially a tech giant like Google, to be using young children as a way to generate revenue. Yes, I know it is always about the money, but you’d think with the success these guys have had they would know better and come up with different ways to make money rather than targeting young children who have no idea they're being exploited.