Groups claim YouTube illegally collects data from kids

YouTube attempts to comply with COPPA by making new users confirm they are at least 13 years old, but despite that check, content aimed at kids is prevalent across the video site. The privacy groups want the Google-owned company to change the way it handles children's data and also pay billions of dollars in fines. In the complaint, the advocacy groups cites a 2017 which shows that 80% of children between the ages of 6-12 use YouTube on a daily basis. The accusers also asked the FTC to look into the matter and charge Google for its violations. While YouTube is only intended for users that are aged 13 or older, the video-sharing site is used frequently by younger kids as the platform does not require any login to watch videos.

YouTube, and other tech companies like Facebook and Snapchat, bar children under the age of 13 from using their services because of COPPA.

The coalition accuses YouTube of violating COPPA and deliberately profiting off luring children into what Chester calls an "ad-filled digital playground" where commercials for toys, theme parks and sneakers can surface alongside kid-oriented videos.

Earlier, many parents were upset with the fact that conspiracy theory videos about the moon landing hoax and the flat Earth theory, alongside other inappropriate videos, started appearing on the Kids app.

None of those services are as popular for kids as YouTube, which has toddler-themed channels with names like ChuChuTV nursery rhymes, which as of last week counted more than 16 million subscribers and 13.4 billion views.

The company said it had not received the group's complaint, but said protecting children and families was a "top priority".

It said YouTube was "skirting the law and profiting off of children without parents' knowledge or consent". It directs younger children to the stand-alone YouTube Kids app, which contains a filtered set of videos from the main site.

But the advocacy groups say that's not true. While algorithms might be effective when it comes to producing an unending list of clips for keeping the children busy, they may not be able to separate between the safe and unsafe content, this is one thing that still gives humans an edge over robots. "We fully expect Google to work closely with advocates and reach out to parents with information about parental controls, content, and collection practices on YouTube so parents can make informed choices about what content they allow their kids to access and how to protect their privacy", he added.

The complaint estimates YouTube inappropriately collected data on 23 million children over "a period of years".

  • Eleanor Harrison