YouTube Violating Norms Protecting Children’s Privacy

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YouTube has always been more popular among youngsters. Its surging fan following among youth has helped the video streaming site to tap their interests and preferences and offer them similar suggestions and ads. The Google-owned video site is in the doghouse with federal officials and advocacy groups over child protection laws.

A coalition of more than 20 child consumer advocacy groups is expected to file a complaint today asking the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to investigate whether YouTube is allegedly violating protection laws for children on the internet.

The crux of the complaint, according to the group, is that YouTube failed to comply with Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a federal law that regulates data collection from sites for users younger than 13 years. The law requires parental consent before data collection. Google subsidiary has been accused of collecting a certain type of personal information, such as IP geolocation, kind of device being used, and then used in ad targeting.

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Children younger than 13 also watch YouTube videos, even though the company defines that the platform is meant for users who are 13 years and older. Though the company launched a stand-alone YouTube Kids app in 2015, it didn’t make much difference in terms of data collection as it had filtered set of videos from the main site. The complaint to FTC argues that most children still watching videos on YouTube’s main site like the rest of us. According to a survey from Common Sense Media, 71% of parents said their kids watch YouTube on its main site or app, while only 24% said their kids used YouTube Kids app.

The advocacy groups said YouTube collects data on children through its main site, where cartoons, toy-unboxing clips, and nursery rhyme videos garner millions of views. By watching a video, viewers give permission to Google to gather data about their device, location, browsing habits and more. This kind of tracking requires parental consent first, according to the revised rules of COPPA.

Be it the main app or kids app, YouTube should refrain itself from trafficking personal information of children under 13 years. Youtube’s advertisement practices suggest that it does know that children are watching, but it should assure that the child is not exposed to data collection practices and doesn’t land up on disturbing contents. For example, Google Preferred, a premium service for advertisers, have knowledge about children-related content as it has a ‘Parenting and Family’ category.

In an email, Youtube stated that it has not received any complaints yet but “protecting kids and families has always been a top priority” for the platform. Also, the company specifies that its kids’ app “does not allow interest-based advertising or re-marketing”.

Targeting kids is obviously proving to be lucrative. Toy Companies like Mattel are showing ads via YouTube which has helped them attract the specific audience, like underage kids and their parents. A popular YouTube channel Ryan ToysReview shows a 6-year old Ryan reviewing a new toy every day. This channel has now over 13 million subscribers and 989 videos which generated $11 million in revenue last year, according to Forbes.

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This is not the first time YouTube has been under the watch for child-related issues. Last year it failed to pull down some disturbing videos aimed at children – like Micky mouse lying in a pool of blood. In the past, the video site has faced criticism for highlighting fake news and misinformation. Not very late YouTube got in trouble for inappropriate video content and deceptive advertising. Insofar as innocent children are concerned, in the light of this news, an obnoxious message is being conveyed by the streaming media provider.

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