Child advocates, consumer groups asking FTC to investigate YouTube

Child looking at phone

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YouTube pointed to the creation the Kids app in response to the groups' complaint, according to CNET's report, saying the app was built for younger viewers because YouTube itself is "not for children". The group states that Google collects personal information on children under 13 such as location, device identifiers and phone numbers and tracks them across different websites and services without first gaining parental consent as required by the US Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa). This act puts limits on the methods of companies' collection of data of kids under 13.

As kids watch videos on YouTube, info is being collected on them, advocates allege. Moreover, even if portions of YouTube were not directed to children, Google has actual knowledge that it is collecting data from children using YouTube. "Its illegal collection has been going on for many years and involves tens of millions of USA children", the complaint reads.

YouTube has been accused of violating United States child protection laws by 23 consumer and child safety groups who filed a complaint (pdf) with the Federal Trade Commission this week. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who co-authored COPPA within the 1990s and says he needs the FTC to look into the YouTube grievance.

That's a 20-year-old law that prohibits internet companies from knowingly collecting personal data from kids under 13 without their parents' consent.

In an email to the AP, YouTube said it plans to "read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve".

Other experts acknowledge that there's a problem but don't think Google is at fault.

As the platform matures, it seems that more and more parents are willing to give their kids tablets, let them play with smartphones, and allow them to engage with new technology in general. The YouTube Kids app offers the same videos and channels as on the regular platform.

Channels that appeal to families with young kids are extremely popular on YouTube. Despite the launch of a separate, content-filtered "YouTube Kids" app in 2015, a study cited in the groups' complaint found that only 24 percent of children who watch YouTube use the Youtube Kids app. But the complaint points to several examples of how the site is clearly targeting younger children, including its hosting of cartoon videos, nursery rhymes, and toy ads. The search giant even touts this feature of its platform to advertisers, the complaint reads.

Children-focused channels ChuChuTV Nursery Rhymes & Kids Songs and LittleBabyBum have over 25 billion views and over 25 million subscribers between them. It has 14 million subscribers and its own videos have been viewed significantly more than 16 billion times. It additionally has extra personality-driven applications that cater to preteens.

In a survey conducted previous year by a market research firm that specializes in children and families, it was found that YouTube is the most "powerful brand in kids' lives". The group said, although the video streaming site claimed to be serving users above 13 years of age, it was well aware that children below 13 were using the site and did nothing about it. Why has the group complained?

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