If your kids have access to a phone, tablet or computer, odds are they’re avid YouTube users. Many parents are acutely aware of the proliferation of child-oriented videos on YouTube (a subsidiary of Google). These toy review channels and other light-hearted children’s entertainment have made some of their creators millionaires at a ridiculously young age.
Many of those parents have also grown quite concerned about the addictive and commercially-oriented nature of this content. Children would often much rather watch a Ryan Toy Review video than go play outside with friends.
Now, a coalition of over 20 consumer advocacy groups has made an even more troubling accusation: YouTube is collecting data about children illegally, they say. Their complaint was sent Monday to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Technically, you need to be 13 or older to use YouTube, according to the site’s policies.
Let’s be real, though… Every parent knows that policy isn’t widely respected! All you really need to do to use YouTube is to affirm you’re over thirteen, a move that many children are apparently making when using YouTube’s regular site (vs. the youth-oriented YouTube Kids app, which bans targeted ads).
The consumer group filing the complaint says YouTube is violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (Coppa) by failing to obtain parental consent before collecting data on children under the age of 13.
The fact that kids are using YouTube’s regular plateform means that data is being collected about their location, browsing habits and more… All of which is being used to target advertising to them, the coalition says.
While YouTube has insisted its service is “not for children”, the coalition’s leader disagrees. Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said YouTube has been “actively packaging under-13 content for advertisers.” He pointed to targeted Barbie ads that appear between child-oriented videos as well as child-oriented channels featured directly within YouTube’s top sections.