YouTube accused of illegally collecting children’s personal data

9 Apr 2018

Child watching a video on YouTube. Image: Yaoinlove/Shutterstock

Child safety advocates push for an investigation of YouTube’s data collection process.

A group including the Center for Digital Democracy, Parents Across America, Consumer Action and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood alleges that YouTube’s parent company Google collects data from children under 13, despite the firm claiming that the video platform is for those aged 13 or over.

Young children using the platform

Future Human

The group said YouTube is aware that children younger than 13 are using the platform and it alleges that personal information, from location to device identifiers, is collected without first obtaining parental consent, something required by the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The collective is asking the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether YouTube is violating a federal law.

The statement claimed that 80pc of children in the US aged six to 12 years in 2017 were daily users. The group believes the company has knowledge of the presence of young children on the platform “as evidenced by disclosures from content providers, public statements by executives and the creation of the YouTube Kids app, which provides additional access to many of the children’s channels”.

The statement also alleged that YouTube encouraged creators to make content for children. “Through the YouTube Partner Program, YouTube and creators split revenues from advertisements served on the creators’ videos.”

Are current efforts enough?

Although the company has its children-only app, YouTube Kids (which the company plans to release a non-algorithmic and whitelisted version of), the complaint argued that most children are not using it.

Executive director of the Center for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Josh Golin, said that although human curation is a welcome step, “the changes do not absolve Google of its responsibilities to the millions of children that use the main YouTube site”.

Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy added: “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.

“Just like Facebook, Google has focused its huge resources on generating profits instead of protecting privacy.”

YouTube said it had not yet received the complaint but would read it thoroughly and would evaluate if it could do anything to improve the situation. It added that the main platform is explicitly not for children: “We’ve invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app to offer an alternative specifically designed for children.”

Child watching a video on YouTube. Image: Yaoinlove/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects