Google’s subsidiary YouTube is operating in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), according to a complaint filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission by a collection of over 20 child advocacy groups.
The group points out that, under COPPA, it is “unlawful for any operator of a Web site or online service directed to children, or any operator that has actual knowledge that it is collecting or maintaining personal information from a child, to collect personal information from a child” unless it complies with certain requirements.
These requirements demand that any operator must give parents notice, and obtain their consent, before collecting data on children.
The complaint alleges that despite YouTube making it clear in its terms of service that its platform isn’t suitable for children, this doesn’t exempt it from its responsibility to comply with COPPA.
The group highlights a revision made by the FTC to the COPPA rule which states “a web site or online service that has the attributes, look, and feel of a property targeted to children under 13 will be deemed to be a site or service directed to children, even if the operator were to claim that was not its intent”.
The complaint goes on to specifically reference channels it claims are directed to children, including Cartoon Network, EvanTubeHD and DreamWorksTV.
It also states that the about page of the “ChuChuTV Nursery Rhymes & Kids Songs” channel, which has over 15 million subscribers, demonstrates that the channel is “child-directed”.
According to the ChuChuTV about page, “ChuChuTV is designed to engage children through a series of upbeat nursery rhymes and educational songs with colorful animations”.
The group also asserts that YouTube has knowledge that many children are on YouTube, “as evidenced by disclosures from content providers, public statements by YouTube executives, and the creation of the YouTube Kids app, which provides additional access to many of the children’s channels on YouTube”.
In response, a Google representative told CNET “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.”
The representative also stated “protecting kids and families has always been a top priority for us” and “we will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve”.
As far as the group is concerned, the problem with this response is that a significant number of children are using YouTube and the content which is available on YouTube’s children’s platform, YouTube Kids, is also available on the main version of YouTube.
The group highlights a survey by Common Sense which states that 71% of parents report their children watch videos on either YouTube’s main website (44 percent) or the YouTube app (37 percent).
Moreover, only 24% of parents report that their children watch videos on the YouTube Kids app.