YouTube accused of illegally gathering data on children

Child protection campaigners are calling for sanctions to be brought against YouTube, accusing the video sharing platform of flouting child protection laws to illegally gather data and display advertising to users aged 13 and under.

A complaint filed with the US Federal Trade Commission by 23 child protection, consumer and privacy groups alleges that Alphabet is knowingly enabling children aged 13 and under to use its services, obtaining information such as location, web history and phone numbers without first obtaining parental consent.

The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, one of the petition signatories, contends that YouTube is the "single most popular online platform for children in the US," arguing that 80% of children aged six to 12 make use of the platform.

Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, commented: “For years, Google has abdicated its responsibility to kids and families by disingenuously claiming YouTube — a site rife with popular cartoons, nursery rhymes, and toy ads — is not for children under 13. Google profits immensely by delivering ads to kids and must comply with Coppa. It’s time for the FTC to hold Google accountable for its illegal data collection and advertising practices.”

Commenting on the complaint, a YouTube spokesperson said: “While we haven’t received the complaint, 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. 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.”

Google released a dedicated YouTube Kids channel in 2015 designed to show only age appropriate ads and content to children in an effort to assuage its critics.