Google’s video sharing platform, YouTube, is being fined $170 million to settle claims of it gathering the personal data of children without parental permission. The Federal Trade Commision (FTC) issued the fine of $136 million, plus Google needs to hand over an extra $34 million to the state of New York regarding similar claims.
This is the largest fine to date that the agency has posed upon the massive tech company, however, it’s a minuscule amount in comparison with the $5 billion that Facebook was fined over privacy infractions.
The FTC has been examining YouTube’s methods of managing data from preteen users. Children of this age are under protection by a federal law that calls for a parent’s permission before a company can gather and share the data.
“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” stated Joe Simons, FTC chairman. But, in regards to following the law that guards children’s privacy, Simons said, “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.”
YouTube explained that the platform is designed for people older than 13, yet preteens often view videos on the site. A lot of well-known channels also have cartoons and sing-a-longs that are clearly created for kids.
The video sharing site also has an app that is specifically made for children, called YouTube Kids. Last month, they established a web version of the service as well. According to the site, parental consent is required, and it utilizes basic math questions to prevent young children from signing in by themselves – a rather pointless measure considering that many kids at that age can code their own apps these days, so it’s doubtful that simple math problems will be an effective deterrent.
YouTube Kids tracks details about what the children are viewing for more efficient video recommendations, although it also gathers personally identifying device data.
Commissioner Rohit Chopra expressed that this is the third instance in the last eight years where the FTC has held Google accountable for privacy encroachment, saying, “This latest violation is extremely serious.”
The unlawful collection of children’s personal information was “extremely lucrative” for Google, said Chopra. Along the same lines as the recent settlement with Facebook, Chopra stated that the Google deal has “no individual accountability, insufficient remedies to address the company’s financial incentives, and a fine that still allows the company to profit from its lawbreaking”.
Speaking on the amount of the fine, Deputy Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, Katharina Kopp, said, “A small amount like this would effectively reward Google for engaging in massive and illegal data collection without any regard to children’s safety”.