YouTube Pays $170M Over Accusations It Broke Children’s Privacy Law

Google will pay $170 million to the FTC and the New York Attorney General to settle allegations YouTube unlawfully collected data of children under 13. It’s YouTube kids, not a college dorm party after all.

In the announcement of this settlement, the FTC call this the largest penalty of its kind to date. However, this fine may not be enough to make some privacy groups happy.

Regulators claim Google violated the COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) by collecting personal information of young YouTube users without securing parental consent.

“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. “Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.”

That statement references a part of the FTC ruling raising questions about how Google has approached children’s privacy. The regulators found that the company branded YouTube as a “leader” in reaching young audiences when it pitched brands. However, Google denied that YouTube is visited by users under age 13 when in talks with an ad company. 

The penalty levied against the YouTube parent company has two parts. A $136 million fine will be paid to the FTC and a $34 million fine will be paid to the New York Attorney General. The company has also agreed to implement new policies (somewhere implemented prior to this fine) to prevent further violations of COPPA.

Google will now treat all users viewing children’s videos as if COPPA applies to them. No matter what age the user may prove to be, this will limit data collection “only to what is needed to support the operation of the service.” The company pledged to stop displaying personalized ads next to children’s videos and to disable certain features like comments.

Google will make sure the new policies are universally enforced across all of YouTube. Part of the new effort, means the company will create a tool letting creators of child-focused content label it as such. The company will also deploy machine learning algorithms to find videos that slip through the cracks. Something that will be far from perfect an may lead to unintended consequences as YouTube has learn in the past with AI.

Google’s longer-term goal is to migrate its young users to the separate YouTube Kids service. A recently launched platform including parental controls, more privacy features and stricter content submission guidelines.

Header Image: “Hard at work” by afagen

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