YouTube has been fined $170 million (£139 million) following allegations that it collected children’s personal data without parental permission.
The Google-owned company has been fined $136 million (£111 million) by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after it was found to have violated the COPPA rule (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), which requires parental consent before collecting personal information from children.
An additional fine of $34 million (£27.9 million) has also been imposed by the New York State attorney general for similar accusations. In a statement, the FTC said the fine was “by far the largest amount the FTC has ever obtained in a COPPA case since Congress enacted the law in 1998”.
YouTube allegedly tracked juvenile users via cookies, which are downloaded when a website is visited for the first time. Each visit thereafter, data collected via cookies is sent to the platform, providing detailed insights into what users browsing patterns are.
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The video-sharing platform is believed to have earned “millions of dollars” by using cookies to track underage users and deliver targeted ads.
The complaint filed by the FTC and New York attorney general alleged that, although YouTube portrayed itself as a general-audience site, some of the platform’s individual channels are directed toward children.
Additionally, the complaint noted that YouTube touted itself as a “top destination for kids” during presentations to the producers of popular children’s products and brand.
“For example, Google and YouTube told Mattel, maker of Barbie and Monster high toys, that ‘YouTube is today’s leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels'”, the FTC said.
“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” said FTC chairman Joe Simons. “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.”
YouTube does have its YouTube Kids app available to use. However, this platform does not direct advertising based on user behaviour. It also recently introduced sweeping parental controls.