Published: Wed, September 04, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Google fined $170m for sharing children's YouTube data

Google fined $170m for sharing children's YouTube data

The New York AG and the FTC accused Google and YouTube of collecting personal data from viewers of channels aimed at under-13s without informing parents or gaining their consent, including through the Kids app.

Regulators charged that Google knew certain YouTube channels were popular among younger viewers, touted this fact to brands and advertisers, and tracked kids' viewing histories for the goal of serving them targeted advertisements, ultimately raking in "millions of dollars" as a result of its repeated violations of federal children's privacy laws.

Reports last week suggested Google would pay up to $200 million to settle the accusations.

"YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients", FTC Chairman Joe Simons said.

Simons said the settlement makes Google liable for violations by third-party content creators, going beyond federal law that requires the platform to have knowledge that videos are directed at children. "This means that we will limit data collection and use on videos made for kids only to what is needed to support the operation of the service", YouTube said on its blog.

Kids under 13 are protected by a 1998 federal law that requires parental consent before companies can collect and share their personal information. Research firm Loup Ventures estimates that 5% of YouTube's annual revenue, or roughly $750 million a year, comes from content aimed at children.

Content identified as children's programming on YouTube's main site will not offer features like comments and notifications and won't serve personalized ads. The children's version does track information about what kids are watching in order to recommend videos.

"We know how important it is to provide children, families and family creators the best experience possible on YouTube and we are committed to getting it right", Google said in a blog post about the settlement.

According to a complaint by the Federal Trade Commission, YouTube marketed itself as a top destination for kids in presentations to the makers of popular children's products and brands.

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The FTC voted 3-2 to adopt the penalty, with Democratic commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter dissenting.

YouTube "baited kids with nursery rhymes, cartoons, and more to feed its massively profitable behavioural advertising business", Chopra said in a tweet. Like the recent settlement with Facebook, he asserted, the Google deal has "no individual accountability, insufficient remedies to address the company's financial incentives, and a fine that still allows the company to profit from its lawbreaking".

The FTC has been investigating YouTube for the way it handles the data of kids under the age of 13.

Child advocacy groups that helped spark a government investigation of YouTube say the outcome doesn't do enough to protect children. But he said the "paltry" fine sends a signal that politically powerful corporations don't have to fear serious consequences for breaking the law.

It is also small compared with the company's revenues.

Google is already under a 2011 agreement with the FTC that barred it from mispresenting its privacy policy and subjected the company to 20 years of regular, independent privacy audits.

As part of Google's settlement with the FTC, the company will be required to create a new system so that content directed at children will be clearly labelled.

Separately, the FTC fined video site Musical.ly, now called TikTok, US$5.7 million earlier this year after finding it illegally collected personal information about kids.

The settlement now needs to be approved by a federal court in Washington.

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