YouTube illegally mining viewing data from young children, advocacy groups claim

OP-Editor Alan Rubinstein

Groups that signed the complaint included the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy, Common Sense, Consumer Action, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

YouTube has been accused of improperly collecting the personal data of young children, with a coalition of more than 20 advocacy, consumer and privacy groups filing a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today. They want YouTube to change how it handles content for children and pay a fine up to "tens of billions" of dollars for allegedly profiting off young viewers.

In the complaint, the groups - which number almost two dozen - say they estimate that "Google collected personal information from almost 25 million children in the US over a period of years, and used this data to engage in very sophisticated digital marketing techniques".

The FTC complaint notes YouTube encourages the creation of child-focused programs, and, through its YouTube Partner Program, splits the ad revenue.

"If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service", the site's terms of use say. And, while YouTube asks a user to verify their age before making an account, having an account is not necessary to watch videos on the site.

It also said it offered the YouTube Kids app "specifically designed for children".

Police said Nasim Najafi Aghdam, 39, from San Diego, was behind Tuesday's shooting at YouTube's offices in Silicon Valley, south of San Francisco, where the company owned by Alphabet Inc's Google employs almost 2 000 people. "YouTube accounts for over 30 percent of kids' online time, creating a major opportunity for advertisers in the sector", according to a 2017 report cited in the filing.

A YouTube spokesperson responded to the allegations saying "While we haven't received the complaint, protecting kids and families has always been a top priority for us".

Music video service Vevo has confirmed its YouTube page suffered a security breach, after some of the video-sharing site's most popular videos were doctored by hackers. The advocacy groups say tracking of these videos would require parental consent and notification.

According to the groups, personal information such as location, phone numbers, and device identifiers is being collected in order to track the children across different websites and services without parental consent. The platform is stocked with content that directly targets children under the age of 13. The allegations suggest that the video hosting site is data collecting on children under 13 which is against USA law.

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