Google fined $170M over accusations YouTube breached children’s privacy

Google LLC will pay $170 million to the Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General to settle allegations YouTube unlawfully collected data on children under 13.

In the memo announcing the settlement today, the FTC hailed it as the largest penalty of its kind to date. Regulators charged that Google violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act or COPPA by gathering the personal information of young users on YouTube without first 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.”

Simons’ statement refers to a specific section of the FTC ruling that raised questions about how Google has been approaching children’s privacy. Officials found that the company branded YouTube as a “leader” in reaching young audiences when pitching brands. However, during talks with an ad company, Google denied the platform is visited by users under age 13. 

The penalty levied against the search giant has two components. Google will pay $136 million to the FTC and a $34 million fine to the New York Attorney General, which was also looking into claims YouTube had violated COPPA. 

The company has furthermore agreed to implement new policies to prevent future violations of the law. Google will treat all users who view children’s videos as if COPPA applies regardless of their age, limiting data collection “only to what is needed to support the operation of the service.” The company pledged to stop display personalized ads next to such videos and disable certain features such as comments.

Google will also invest resources in making sure the new policies are universally enforced across YouTube. As part of the effort, the company will roll out a tool to let creators of child-focused content mark it as such and will deploy machine learning algorithms to find videos that slip through the cracks.

Google’s longer-term plan is to move its young user base over to the separate YouTube Kids service. The platform includes parental controls, extra privacy features and stricter content submission guidelines that should make it easier for the search giant to manage regulatory compliance. 

Photo: Unsplash

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