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YouTube accused of illegally collecting data from kids

Child advocacy groups are calling out YouTube Kids as violating child protection laws. The YouTube COPPA violations could lead to billions in fines.

Published onApril 9, 2018

  • Child-advocacy groups are accusing YouTube of violating COPPA, a law designed to protect children from being data mined on the internet.
  • If the allegations are true, Google could face billions of dollars in fines.
  • This news comes on the back of reports that Google is planning a revamped YouTube Kids app to help combat inappropriate videos sneaking onto the platform.

The Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), written in 1998, prevents companies from collecting data from children under the age of 13. That is why children are not allowed to use YouTube and Google created the YouTube Kids app as an alternative.

However, in a complaint filed on Monday, 20 child-advocacy groups accused Google of illegally collecting data from kids via the YouTube Kids app. According to CNN Tech, the accusers are asking the FTC to investigate and fine Google to the tune of billions of dollars for its infractions.

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This news comes on the back of an earlier story, via BuzzFeed, surrounding Google’s efforts to make YouTube Kids a safer app for children to use on their own without adult supervision.

A few months ago, parents were shocked to find that conspiracy theory videos about the moon landing hoax and the flat Earth theory, among other inappropriate videos, started showing up in the YouTube Kids app. To prevent issues like that in the future, Google will give parents the option to use a “whitelisted” version of YouTube Kids, which relies on specialized, handpicked content rather than content found by algorithms as the app currently features.

YouTube is in hot water with parents after numerous issues with the YouTube Kids app keep surfacing.

This new, “whitelisted” version of the YouTube Kids app has not been officially confirmed nor denied by Google, but sources close to the matter say that its release is imminent.

With this revamped version of YouTube Kids and now these allegations that Google is data mining children, it’s clear that YouTube’s relationship with parents in regards to their kids is strained at the moment. To its credit, Google is taking the matter seriously. A Google spokesperson said, “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.”

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It is not clear what proof these child-advocacy groups have that Google is, in fact, violating COPPA.

While YouTube’s TOS clearly states that users under the age of 13 should not use the site, Trendera research speculates that 45% of kids between the ages of 8- and 12-years-old have a YouTube account; they just lie and say they are older during the account creation process. Conversely, parents can simply let children use their accounts or kids can watch YouTube videos without an account at all.

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