Consumer advocacy groups complain that YouTube is collecting information from children

Image: YouTube

YouTube is facing a new complaint from a coalition of consumer advocacy groups that claims that the popular video website has broken children’s privacy laws by collecting information on underage viewers in order to sell ads, according to a report in The New York Times.

The complaint claims that YouTube is in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires YouTube to get consent from parents or guardians before it collects any data on children 13 years old or younger. YouTube already provides a separate YouTube Kids app for younger users that bans targeted advertising, but many children apparently use the regular app anyway. (YouTube’s terms of service require users to affirm that they are above the age of 13 in order to use the service.)

According to its terms of service, YouTube says the site is explicitly “not intended for children under 13.” The documentation even says that “if you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service.” But the coalition feels that the terms of service isn’t an explicit enough warning, and YouTube can do more to notify parents and obtain consent before tracking users and selling ad data.

While part of the problem may stem from the fact that parents are simply violating YouTube’s terms of service by allowing children under 13 to use the site, the consumer rights groups complaint claims that YouTube is still tailoring ads to younger users who are using the site. Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the leader of the coalition, commented to the NYT that YouTube is “actively packaging under-13 content for advertisers.”

In a response to The New York Times, YouTube said that it would “evaluate if there are things we can do to improve,” but reiterated that “YouTube is not for children” and directed younger users toward the YouTube Kids app, which offers more filtered content and more robust parental controls.

The company is also reportedly working on a completely curated version of the YouTube Kids app that will be limited to channels that are hand-picked by human moderators in order to help stem the tide of conspiracy theories and bizarre “Elsagate”-style videos that have popped up in the app in recent months.


YouTube says it’s not for anyone under 13, they did their job. The fact that they may have child relevant ads next to some videos doesn’t mean those ads are explicitly targeting children. They are targeting anyone 13 & up who may be interested in those child products, either for themselves or to purchase for someone younger than 13.

This is kinda of complaining that Saturday morning cartoons are showing ads targeted for kids.

It’s not the same. In addition to that, Google is also collecting data about specific user.

Yes, users whose age is above 13. Why would you let children use the app and then complain about this?

You’ll understand in 10 years from now.

Google asks for the users age, if the user lies and says they’re 13 or older then the onus is on the user, not Google. How is Google supposed to know that they’re lying? Hold all accounts until photo ID is shown?

Too bad "Youtube Kids" app doesn’t show relevant content and the child gets bored and end up using regular Youtube anyway.

My son is subscribed to lots of "parent approved" channels but for some odd reason Youtube Kids won’t show content from those channels nor feed him the latest videos from those channels. My son has to search for the Channels every time and even then it will only show content from 2 or more years ago and always the same 10-15 collection of videos. I don’t know why Youtube Kids algorithm does that (probably because it’s not collecting info about my son habits, as stated in the article), but you’d think that it should prioritize subscribed channels instead of videos from Russian or Japanese Kids (as it does even though it knows that my son is Brazilian and the language is set to Portuguese in the app).

bolster their case, the groups shared screenshots of Barbie advertisements set to appear between videos aimed at children.[/quote]<ahref="">NYT

This seems like a weak argument and paints Google into a damned if they do and damned if they don’t box.

If they use the advertisements based solely on the presumed parents user profile the argument would be spun into that Google is tracking the viewing habits of children.

If they use what very well may be contextual advertisements it’s claimed they’re marketing at children. Which isn’t illegal under COPPA assuming it’s derived based solely on the content being viewed and not based on viewing habits.

Google could move all this content to YouTube Kids which wouldn’t change the fact that Google is still allowed to show advertisements for toys. Just like Cartoon Network isn’t showing commercials selling Audi’s.

The NYT article goes on to explain that the app itself isn’t conductive for group viewing which may explain why the content is available in the main service to begin with.

I get the idea of wanting to protect children from advertising in a way that wasn’t able to be done with television, but i’d be surprised if this goes very far.

My daughter is 9 and watches Youtube kids exclusively. We don’t have cable so it’s all she’s got.

But that doesn’t excuse me from watching my kids.

If you want something that will babysit your kids get a nanny.

Don’t go leaving your kid alone with Google and be surprised when they are watching something that doesnst match your parenting style.

Put Youtube kids on the TV. You can all watch it together.

I constantly check what my kids are consuming. Caregivers have to diligent and consistent, because the tide shifts so much in regards to content. More importantly, kids are gonna be kids, and curiosity will get the best of the best kid…

You can’t police the web like this. Children under 13 have, and will continue, have access to the same content as adults have access to and there is really no way that websites can require kids/parents to explicitly authorize access, except behind a pay-wall.

If you want the Internet to turn into pay per use, then please keep supporting naive special interest complaints like this.

Google did due diligence by offering You Tube Kids to let parents allow their kids to have access to content without being flooded with ads or targeted data collection.

This always comes down to the parent, and parents not aware of the web usage of their pre-teens can turn around and blame everyone else when their kids gain access to content or have their data tracked unexpectedly.

I agree that parental controls on most mobile devices are completely lacking but if you allow your kid to watch regular You Tube then don’t complain about all the toys they want to buy after being flooded by highly targeted marketing.

I think Google/YouTube saw this coming. They made the YouTube Kids on almost out of no where. They probably did that because they saw a trend of younger viewers on the site and wanted to both support that and protect the kids.

Sadly, at least for Google, is that advocacy groups will also see this and even though other sites probably do the same thing, no one is larger than Google making them a perfect target.

It seems Youtube (google) is purposefully making the kids app crappy so they will have no choice but to use the full app.

So, there are two problems here, parents breaking Youtube’s terms of service (which isn’t unusual since Facebook used to have a starting age limit of 8 years old, but parents ignored it all the time).

The second problem is that Youtube makes the kids app so bad that no one wants to use it.

Either way you look at it, it all smells bad.

It’s for kids, not for you. You think a kid knows the difference? Are they able to watch a video, yes or no? Geez. If a parent lets their kid use regular youtube then what is Youtube suppose to do? What exactly smells bad? Is someone forcing you to use Youtube? Perhaps you can go read a book with your kids instead.

Youtube for kids is PURE trash. Deleted it this past weekend. Just shows kids who are exploited by their parents to unwrap toys and candies. Just oure trash content with no educational value.

The same consumer groups for children health that accept a bowl of cereal can have 14 spoons of sugar?

Why should the privacy of children be particularly more important than that of adults? How is tracking and surveillance of children any creepier? I think there’s way more important ways to improve the lives of children out there than this hoo-ha.

Like teaching them mindfulness.

What kind of ads are Bronies being served by YouTube? Are they also getting Barbie promotions?

Are these people serious? What more should Youtube do? Have facial recognition to shut down access to the service if it recognizes a kid? This consumer group is clearly making up jobs for themselves. They are a waste of space and the members should be sterilized. These are the type of people who will play with fire then sue the match companies for getting burned. Nut jobs.

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