YouTube has come under fire many times in the last year when it comes to the safety of kids accessing the platform and now a new complaint can be added to the growing list of issues. A formal complaint has been filed alleging that YouTube has violated kids’ online privacy by allowing ads to target them. Representatives for YouTube did not immediately return Red Tricycle’s request for comment.
UPDATED 8:30PM PDT: Reached via email, a spokesperson for YouTube sent the following official statement, “We are reviewing the complaint and will evaluate if there are things we can do to improve. Protecting kids and families has always been a top priority for us. 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.”
As the Los Angeles Times reports, the complaint filed last week is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and impose billions of dollars of fines on YouTube’s parent company Google. Advertising to kids is nothing new, network and cable channels do it all the time with ads for toys and other kid-related items during cartoons. The difference with YouTube is, that unlike television broadcasters, the online platform is able to collect data on all of its users. The company can then use that information to create targeted ads.
“Google profits handsomely from selling advertising to kid-directed programs that it packages,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, one of the groups that drafted the complaint. “It makes deals with producers and distributors of kids’ online programs worldwide. Google has built a global and very lucrative business based on kids’ deep connections to YouTube.”
Although technically YouTube’s terms of service state that users must be 13 years or older, many YouTube channels are clearly made for young kids. Legally the company can’t collect data on kids younger than 13 without parental consent. However, the complaint filed accuses YouTube of violating this law and profiting off of the data collected.
According to the LA Times, YouTube’s emailed statement on the matter said it “will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve. 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.”
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