According to a group of consumer organizations, YouTube illegally tracked “tens of millions” of kids’ personal data.
The orgs accused YouTube of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in a complaint filed Monday with the Federal Trade Commission. According to the groups, the social-media giant solicited data from minors without parental consent.
“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 U.S. children,” reads the complaint filed by 20 children’s advocate groups.
COPPA, a rule implemented nearly 20 years ago and updated in 2012, protects children under the age of 13 from “overreaching marketers” who aren't aware of the safety or privacy violations created by collecting their user information. The FTC has reviewed more than two dozen COPPA cases since the rule was enacted, according to the agency.
The complaint alleges that Google, as parent company of YouTube, had “actual knowledge” that the video platform targeted younger users and sold their information to advertisers. “Google’s wrongdoing,” advocates alleged, allowed the search-engine giant to profit from child-targeting advertisers.
The child-safety advocates want YouTube to pay $41,484 per COPPA violation, totalling in the billions.
YouTube’s Terms of Service claims the platform is not for anyone under the age of 13 years old and requests that younger users “please do not use the service” and “talk to your parents about what sites are appropriate for you.” The YouTube Kids app released in 2015, however, follows COPPA guidelines, a spokesperson said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Google told CNN: “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 spokesperson added: "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.”
Despite being kid-friendly, however, YouTube Kids is often slammed for age-inappropriate content.
Last month, the kid app came under fire for reportedly suggesting conspiracy-theory videos to children, including hours-long footage of conspiracist David Icke spouting off about reptile-human hybrids ruling the world. Other suggestions included videos about the “moon landing” hoax.
Two months ago, Google apologized again for not flagging a disturbing video on the app about sharpening knives.
The YouTube Kids app will reportedly use a team of human curators to flag disturbing videos in the future, BuzzFeed News reported.
The advocacy organizations’ complaint also included screenshots of children’s videos with ads targeting kids with keywords like “Barbie doll dream house,” “baby,” “toddler” or “toy.”
The complaint specifically named the YouTube channel “Ryan Toy Reviews,” a supposedly kid-friendly account with nearly 20 billion views and 12 million subscribers. The channel has made an estimated $11 million in ad revenue off child-targeting ads, per the complaint.
FTC spokesperson Juliana Gruenwald told The Daily Beast that the agency has received the complaint and is reviewing it.