FTC’s settlement with Google over YouTube kids privacy violations blasted by critics

The Federal Trade Commission’s reported settlement with Google over YouTube children’s privacy violations has been blasted by tech critics for not going far enough to rein in the search giant.

The settlement was reportedly backed by the agency’s three Republicans but rejected by its two Democrats. It found that Google didn’t do enough to protect children who used its video-streaming service and improperly collected their data in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA, which does not allow the tracking of users under 13 years of age, two sources told The Washington Post.

Although the company is expected to pay a multimillion-dollar fine, the exact details of the settlement are unknown and the final agreement must be approved by the Justice Department, the Post reports. Since Alphabet, the parent company of Google, had $36.3 billion in revenue in 2019’s first quarter, even a multimillion-dollar fine won’t damage its bottom line.

YouTube, which has struggled to clamp down on predators and terrorists using its platform, has come under increasing scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

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As with the FTC’s reported Facebook settlement, critics and lawmakers have taken a skeptical view of the agency’s actions.

David Monahan, campaign manager for Campaign for a Commericial-Free Childhood, called a seven- or eight-figure penalty “a slap in the face for parents trying to keep their kids safe online.”

If the FTC doesn’t take stern action to protect kids going forward, and require that all kids’ content be moved off of YouTube and onto a site which complies with federal privacy law, then the message will be clear—there is no cop on the beat and Big Tech can put profits ahead of kids’ wellbeing,” Monahan told Politico.

James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense, a nonprofit that has pushed for stronger regulation of the tech industry regarding children, said YouTube must be held accountable.

“We urge the FTC to keep the pressure up by imposing fines with real monetary teeth and requiring meaningful structural change from these platforms,” Steyer said in a statement to Fox News. “We also encourage Congress to update our privacy laws to reflect the digital world our kids are living in. Until platforms are forced to pay stiff penalties and commit to real changes they will not properly serve their kids and family audiences.”

Privacy advocates have slammed YouTube for years, claiming that some popular channels on the site are directed toward children, even though the company claims they are not.

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One Senate bill would expand COPPA to cover children up to age 15 and broaden the definition of covered companies as well.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and author of the new COPPA bill, told Politico that “children’s privacy is at stake, and it appears that with this settlement, the FTC may not take adequate steps to protect this uniquely vulnerable population online. It’s time for the FTC to do its job.”

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