Two members of Congress are demanding answers from Google over allegations that they illegally use their powerful technology to gather data from children. At the same time, Google is among the tech companies named in a lawsuit from New Mexico’s attorney general over targeting kids for data collection.
Representatives David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) sent a letter to Google Monday demanding “answers on whether its data collection practices for children using YouTube are in compliance with existing federal law.”
The letter is in response to a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in April by 20 child privacy and protection advocates who claim that YouTube violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) by collecting personal data on children using YouTube.
COPPA prohibits any company from collecting personal data on children under the age of 13 without parental consent, but many child privacy and protection advocates argue the law is ineffective as more and more children under 13 use Google’s search engine, as well as YouTube and game apps in Google Play.
The complaint filed by the child protection organizations quotes a 2017 study that found “80 percent of U.S. children ages 6-12 use YouTube daily” and that child-targeting channels like ChuChuTV Nursery Rhymes & Kids Songs and Ryan ToysReview “are among the most popular channels” on the platform. They also alleged that “disclosures from content providers and public statements by YouTube executives” provide proof that YouTube is aware of the large number of children using their product, and that “the creation of the YouTube Kids app, which provides additional access to many of the children’s channels on YouTube” is designed to encourage under-13 viewership.
“YouTube even encourages content creators to create children’s programs for YouTube,” they allege.
YouTube does state in its Terms of Service that YouTube is “is not intended for children under 13. If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service. There are lots of other great web sites for you. Talk to your parents about what sites are appropriate for you.”
But as the FTC complaint points out that YouTube does not notify parents or require any kind of parental consent for children under 13.
Meanwhile, a challenge has been mounted at the state level by New Mexico’s Attorney General Hector Balderas. Last week he announced a lawsuit against Google, Twitter, Tiny Lab Producions, MoPub, AerServ, InMobi PTE, AppLovin and IronSource claiming apps made by some of these companies and advertised in Google’s stores track and collect data on children.
Google has long struggled to counter the view that they are not serious about making their site a safe platform for children. A year ago, Google lobbied against the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which seeks to strike down legal protections for tech platforms that knowingly host child sex trafficking ads.