YouTube should be fined billions for illegally collecting children's data, privacy groups claim

  • In a complaint filed to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Monday, a coalition of more than 20 advocacy, consumer and privacy groups claim that Google's video platform is violating U.S. child protection laws by collecting personal data on users aged less than 13 years old.
  • The claim comes hot on the heels of the data scandal that has hit Facebook in recent weeks, as the tech behemoth looks to tackle allegations it improperly shared information with London-based elections consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.
  • Google said that while it had not received the complaint, "protecting kids and families has always been a top priority."
Boy and girl watching cartoons online with the iPad tablet sitting in the sofa at home.
Artur Debat | Contributor
Boy and girl watching cartoons online with the iPad tablet sitting in the sofa at home.

YouTube, one of the world's most popular websites, has been accused of improperly collecting the personal data of young children.

In a complaint filed to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Monday, a coalition of more than 20 advocacy, consumer and privacy groups claim that Google's video platform is violating U.S. child protection laws by collecting personal data on users aged less than 13 years old.

The coalition is calling for Google to change how it manages content for younger audiences and wants YouTube to pay a fine worth billions of dollars for allegedly profiting off children's viewing habits.

The group says Google harvests personal information on children under 13, including information such as phone numbers and location before then tracking their activity across a number of websites and targeting ads without first gaining parental consent — a legal requirement according to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

'Ad-filled digital playground'

The claim comes hot on the heels of the data scandal that has hit Facebook in recent weeks, as the tech behemoth looks to tackle allegations it improperly shared information with London-based elections consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.

"Google has acted duplicitously by falsely claiming in its terms of service that YouTube is only for those who are age 13 or older, while it deliberately lured young people into an ad-filled digital playground," Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy, one of the leading advocacy groups in the coalition, said in a statement Monday.

"Just like Facebook, Google has focused its huge resources on generating profits instead of protecting privacy," he added.

Protecting kids a 'top priority' for YouTube

YouTube defines its main site as a platform for viewers aged 13 years or older, while directing younger children to its YouTube Kids app — which contains a filtered set of videos to show appropriate content and ads.

The distinction between YouTube's main site and its stand-alone app for young children is especially relevant because of the laws in place concerning disclosure and parental consent. The coalition argues that the Alphabet-owned site had "actual knowledge" they are trafficking personal information of children under 13 and, as a result, are breaching COPPA laws.

Google said that while it had not received the complaint, "protecting kids and families has always been a top priority."

"We will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve. Because YouTube is not for children, we've invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app to offer an alternative, specifically designed for children," a YouTube spokesperson told CNBC in an email.