Social media is so prevalent these days, it seems like everyone has an account. However, it’s so commonplace, that we often forget everyone has an account. This means that our digital world has also made it easier than ever for predators to connect with our children, and it doesn’t help when the most commonly visited sites are now violating the rights of our youth, too. Currently, a coalition of more than twenty consumer advocacy groups is expected to file a complaint with federal officials alleging YouTube has been violating children’s privacy law.
The complaint claims that the Google subsidiary has unlawfully been collecting and profiting from the personal information of young children on its main site, although the company says the platform is meant only for users 13 and older. The filing is expected to state YouTube failed to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law that requires companies to obtain consent from parents before collecting data on children younger than 13 years of age. The groups are asking for authorities to investigate and for penalties to be imposed by the Federal Trade Commission.
“Google has been continually growing its child-directed service in the United States and all over the world without any kind of acknowledgment of this law and its responsibilities,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, one of the groups leading the charge. “It’s living in a world of online fiction and denied that it’s serving children.”
YouTube states its main site is for viewers 13 and older. It then directs younger children to YouTube Kids app, which contains a filtered set of main site videos – basically, on the surface, offering a sort of ‘parental controls’ option. YouTube Kids requires specific disclosure statements and parental consent. This is a legal requirement for sites with “actual knowledge” that they are trafficking in the personal information a younger demographic and falls under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa) of 1998. The law was updated in 2012 to account for the use of mobile devices, and the revised rules clearly stated parental consent is required before collecting information used to identify, contact, or locate a child, including photos, video, audio, and the location of a child’s mobile device.
“We haven’t received the letter yet but look forward to reviewing it,” a spokeswoman for the Federal Trade Commission said, adding the agency took enforcement of Coppa “very seriously.” YouTube indicated it had not yet received the complaint but that “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.”