YouTube has been fined $170m by the US Federal Trade Commission over its handling of children’s personal data.
Regulators said the technology firm has knowingly harvested the data of its youngest users in order to profit from the sale of targeted advertising. YouTube was found to be tracking web browsing history without parents’ consent.
The FTC found Google’s streaming platform in breach of online privacy law, specifically COPPA, which prohibits organisations from using data collection to target advertising towards children under 13.
Joe Simons, the chairman of the FTC, highlighted discrepancies in the way YouTube presents its handling of data to potential advertisers compared with its self-appraisal when probed by watchdogs.
He says that the company “touted its popularity with children to prospective clients” but when pushed says YouTube “refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids”.
The FTC says YouTube told toymaker Mattel that its platform “is today’s leader in reaching children age six to 11", compared with traditional TV.
Google will pay $136m to the FTC and a further $34m to New York state to settle the situation, though some at the FTC say the measure is not enough.
Facebook, in contrast, was fined $5bn earlier this year for its mishandling of personal data, though this was not restricted to the privacy of children. Video app TikTok, which faced similar allegations, was fined $5.7m for mishandling children’s data.
Last month YouTube put an end to targeted advertising on children’s videos, or those they were likely to view.
Blowback earlier this year in February spooked the streaming company when some of its biggest advertisers such as Disney, Hasbro and Epic Games temporarily boycotted the service, cutting back or pulling their spend entirely.