FTC mulls disabling YouTube ads to protect against child privacy

SuperAwesome's CEO suggests YouTube should have a 'chief children's officer' to lead the site's kids content strategy

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reportedly considering whether it should have YouTube disable ads on certain channels in response to concerns over child privacy.

YouTube is already facing an FTC probe after being accused of illegaly gathering data on children. In response, the Google-owned site has considered moving all children's content – and the millions of ad dollars that accompany it – onto a separate platform.

This potential move to limit ads on YouTube in the name of protecting children would be a less drastic step. According to Bloomberg, the FTC have suggested that YouTube instead disable ads on certain content creators' channels to limit the collection of data from children under 13 without parental consent.

Both the FTC and YouTube declined to comment.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, the two groups the FTC reportedly contacted to talk through disabling ads on YouTube, wrote a letter on 3 July saying it isn't "clear whether turning off interest-based advertising actually stops the data collection and tracking of the child" through the Google Marketing Platform.

"We are concerned about any remedy that would allow children’s content to remain on the main YouTube site and shift the burden of responsibility to content creators to opt out of 'interest-based' advertising," the letter said.

Moving all kids content to a separate platform may not be enough to solve YouTube's problem. Dylan Collins, chief executive officer of SuperAwesome, a tech platform dedicated to helping brands safely reach kids online, said YouTube Kids only succeeds as a platform for pre-school kids.

"Any product labelled as 'kids' simply won't attract kids over the age of eight," said Collins. "Additionally, the content that kids watch on YouTube today isn't obviously 'kids' content [such as] sports videos and animal videos. So while it's a good step, it doesn't solve the issue of kids on YouTube."

He added that if YouTube shifts liability to content creators, then the majority will not self-identify as children's content owners in order to continue monetizing their videos.

"[YouTube] should be investing a minimum percentage of all revenue in third-party 'kidtech' tools for developers and content creators to make it easier to create kids content and experiences," said Collins. "They should be appointing a chief children's officer who has executive responsibility for a coherent kids strategy across all products."

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