YouTube slapped with $170 million fine for violating children’s online privacy

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has fined YouTube $170 million as part of a settlement relating to the video platform’s treatment of children.

FTC announced the settlement on Wednesday, September 4. The Google-owned platform has to pay $34 million to New York for allegations that it violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule. YouTube has to pay the remaining $136 million to the FTC, which is the largest sum the FTC has received from a COPPA case.

The settlement passed in a 3-2 vote of the commission.

YouTube allegedly collected personal information used to track internet users from viewers on channels aimed toward children. A joint complaint from the FTC and New York Attorney General, Letitia James, alleges that YouTube collected this information for targeted advertisements without notifying parents or securing their consent.

The FTC said that under the COPPA rule established in 1998, websites and services directed at children must “provide notice of their information practices and obtain parental consent prior to collecting personal information from children under 13, including the use of persistent identifiers to track a user’s internet browsing habits for targeted advertising.”

The FTC pointed to YouTube telling popular toymakers Mattel and Hasbro that the platform was the “leader” in reaching kids ages 6-11 online.

“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” said FTC Chairman, Joe Simons, in the FTC press release. “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.”

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The complaint asserts that while YouTube claims to be a “general-audience” site, many of the platform’s channels are explicitly directed at children. YouTube also maintains a kid-friendly app called YouTube Kids.

YouTube published a blog post the same day the FTC settlement was announced about children and data protection on the platform.

“Responsibility is our number one priority at YouTube, and nothing is more important than protecting kids and their privacy. We’ve been significantly investing in the policies, products, and practices to help us do this,” wrote YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in the post. “From its earliest days, YouTube has been a site for people over 13, but with a boom in family content and the rise of shared devices, the likelihood of children watching without supervision has increased.”

Wojcicki shared that YouTube will stop personalized ads on all children-related content, as well as features like comments on videos. She said they would also limit data collection on kid-friendly channels.

“Today’s changes will allow us to better protect kids and families on YouTube, and this is just the beginning. We’ll continue working with lawmakers around the world in this area, including as the FTC seeks comments on COPPA,” Wojcicki added.

Digital Trends reached out to the FTC and YouTube for further comment, and we’ll update this report if and when we hear back.

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