Following soon after reports that YouTube will start using humans rather than algorithms to screen videos for YouTube Kids, 20 child advocacy groups filed a complaint against YouTube with the FTC today.
The complaint asks the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether YouTube violates the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). COPPA limits the ways companies can collect data about children under 13.
The law states any company that intends to collect data about sub-13-year-olds must first notify and receive consent from the children’s parents.
The complaint, which CNN reported is led by the Center for Digital Democracy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, charges, “Google has made substantial profits from the collection and use of personal data from children on YouTube. Its illegal collection has been going on for many years and involves tens of millions of US children,”
Google restricts advertisers from targeting age groups under 18. The video website’s Terms of Service state that only people older than 13 can obtain a Google account, which is necessary to sign in to YouTube.
As anyone can test by clicking on a graphic YouTube video link, however, no one needs a Google account to watch YouTube videos. Also, some parents don’t restrict their children from using the parent’s Google accounts. All a child needs to do to obtain her or his own account is to lie about their age when signing up.
CNN cited The Trendera Files, a report issued in 2017, which states that “45% of kids between 8- and 12-years-old have a YouTube Account.”
A spokesperson for Google, YouTube’s parent company, told CNN YouTube Kids does not collect data used in targeting ads and that the standalone mobile app is in compliance with all COPPA rules.
“Protecting kids and families has always been a top priority for us. We will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve,” the Google spokesperson continued. “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.”
According to the complaint, YouTube collected data illegally on an estimated 23 million children during a “period of years.” The complaint requests that the FTC assess a fine of as much as $41,484 per violation. Billions of dollars could be at stake.
Wired reported that the group’s complaint to the FTC states most kids ignore YouTube Kids in favor of YouTube. Wired quoted Josh Grolin, Center for a Commerical Free Childhood executive director saying that while humans may start screening videos for YouTube Kids, “changes to the YouTube Kids app do not absolve Google of its responsibilities to the millions of children that use the main YouTube site.”