US Senators push FTC to investigate YouTube’s child privacy concerns


Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Marsha Blackburn of (R-TN) have approached the FTC calling for a thorough probe into YouTube and its parent entity, Google.

The senators are basing their request on mounting evidence which suggests the video-sharing platform might have flouted federal regulations safeguarding children’s online privacy.

This plea is buttressed by a recent exposé by the New York Times, which relayed findings by Adalytics, an ad transparency tool. This research indicated that YouTube’s advertisement system was possibly displaying adult-oriented ads on content earmarked for younger audiences. Such actions might inadvertently lead to the harvesting of data from users younger than 13. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) dictates that businesses must secure parental approval before accumulating data from users below this age threshold.

The Times’ investigation revealed that Adalytics detected over 300 ads, tailored for adults, on almost 100 YouTube videos labelled “made for kids.” Tapping these advertisements redirected users to sites laden with trackers, which could inadvertently capture children’s data.

YouTube and Google are not strangers to such controversies. Back in 2019, both entities agreed to a $170m settlement following lawsuits initiated by the FTC and New York state. These legal proceedings charged YouTube with procuring personal details from children without obtaining parental consent. As part of this settlement, YouTube pledged to devise a mechanism to pinpoint content tailored for children to sidestep targeted advertising.

Despite the allegations, the Times’ coverage specified, “There is no evidence that Google and YouTube violated their 2019 agreement with the FTC.”

However, repeating such a violation could spell trouble for the tech giants.

Blackburn and Markey highlighted in their letter, “This behaviour by YouTube and Google is estimated to have impacted hundreds of thousands, to potentially millions, of children across the United States.”

Google strongly contested Adalytics’ conclusions. Farrell Sklerov, a Google spokesperson, clarified, “Personalised advertising has never been allowed on YouTube Kids… The report makes completely false claims…”

Notably, both Senators Markey and Blackburn sit on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has been diligently addressing children’s online privacy.

Campaigning entities Fairplay and the Center for Digital Democracy stressed the importance of determining Google’s adherence to the 2019 agreement. Josh Golin, from Fairplay, urged for a meticulous FTC probe.

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