Protecting our kids online is a lesson in constant vigilance. As much as we try, there are certain things that may be out of our control. This is especially true when it comes to ads aimed at kids online. Google is currently being made to pay some steep fines for violating the laws about targeting ads to kids under the age of 13.
It's important to note that there are rules against collecting data on children under 13. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has very strict laws prohibiting data collection from kids who are under 13 without parental permission. So they can't use data like names, birth dates, location, photos, etc. And the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) forbids companies from collecting data and using it to aid their advertising and programming algorithms. Additionally, the FTC law explicitly prohibits apps for kids from using "persistent identifiers," behavior patterns to target advertising.
A financial settlement is no substitute for core reforms that stop Google & other tech companies from invading our privacy—particularly when children are concerned. I continue to be alarmed by Big Tech’s policies & practices that invade children’s lives & information. https://t.co/pKGADK5b0u— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) August 30, 2019
But it turns out that YouTube is allegedly doing all of the above. Or at very least, they're under investigation for doing it. This is strictly regular YouTube, as YouTube Kids doesn't allow for ads based on online behaviors. And since Google owns YouTube, they're on the hook to pay the fines.
So Google has agreed to pay fines ranging between $150 and $200 million dollars to the FTC to settle said investigation. This is just the latest app with kid users to have to do so. In February of this year, the FTC fined popular app TikTok $5.7 million. And then in July, Facebook was fined $5 billion.
“They should levy a fine which both levels the playing field, and serves as a deterrent to future COPPA violations. This fine would do neither,” executive director of coalition leader for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood Josh Golin says via statement via Politico.
The FTC takes many approaches to crack down on COPPA violations. It's hard with websites, apps, games and the like that aren't explicitly marketed to kids. But if they have large amounts of kid content, like YouTube, they end up on the FTC radar eventually. And that's what's happening with the YouTube situation.
With YouTube especially, it's complicated. While you must confirm that you're over 13 to create a YouTube account, that doesn't mean the user isn't under 13. How many of us parents let our little ones use our YouTube account? Probably a lot of us. That's what then allows YouTube to collect data on these young users. Technically no one is breaking the rules, but they need to be more aware of the content being viewed. Subsequently, YouTube has said they will be removing targeted ads in videos kids may watch. Does that fix the problem? Not quite, but it's a start.