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As YouTube tries to make its site safer for children, nearly two dozen child advocacy and privacy groups have launched a complaint, alleging that Google is illegally collecting the personal data of users under 13 years old.
According to the Guardian, 23 groups involved with child advocacy, consumer issues, and privacy filed the complaint against the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), saying that YouTube advertises to those under the age of 13, that it collects their data, and that it tracks them across different websites without obtaining parental consent as required by federal law.
“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,” Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said, via the newspaper. “Google profits immensely by delivering ads to kids and must comply with COPPA [the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act]. It’s time for the FTC to hold Google accountable for its illegal data collection and advertising practices.”
YouTube, which says the site is meant for users 13 years or older, has come under plenty of controversy for what it shows to minors. YouTube reportedly is overhauling its YouTube Kids app and using strictly human curators so conspiracy theory and other inappropriate videos aren’t aimed at children by gaming the site’s search algorithm. But so far, the site’s efforts haven’t stopped children from being targeted by those who are uploading conspiracy videos and other disturbing non-kid-friendly videos that feature Disney characters and other superheroes.
Now, these 23 groups want the FTC to investigate.
“Google has acted duplicitously by falsely claiming in its terms of service that YouTube is only for those who are age 13 or older, while it deliberately lured young people into an ad-filled digital playground,” the Center for Digital Democracy’s Jeff Chester said. “Just like Facebook, Google has focused its huge resources on generating profits instead of protecting privacy.”
Said a YouTube spokesperson in a statement: “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.”
According to CNET, a Common Sense Media survey reported that only 24 percent of children use the YouTube Kids app, while 71 percent of parents said their kids watch videos on the main YouTube site or its main app.
Josh Katzowitz is a staff writer at the Daily Dot specializing in YouTube and boxing. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. A longtime sports writer, he's covered the NFL for CBSSports.com and boxing for Forbes. His work has been noted twice in the Best American Sports Writing book series.