YouTube Collects Kids' Personal Data Without Parental Consent, 23 Groups Allege to FTC

YouTube unveiled their new paid subscription service at the YouTube Space LA in Playa Del Rey, Los Angeles, California, United States October 21, 2015.
YouTube unveiled their new paid subscription service at the YouTube Space LA in Playa Del Rey, Los Angeles, California, United States October 21, 2015. | (Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

A coalition of 23 consumer watchdog groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Google and YouTube, accusing the popular video sharing site of collecting children's personal data without parental consent.

Filed Monday before the FTC, the groups accuse Google, which owns YouTube, of violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting the personal data of tens of millions of minors who use the site.

"YouTube's privacy policy discloses that it collects many types of personal information, including geolocation, unique device identifiers, mobile telephone numbers, and persistent identifiers used to recognize a user over time and across different websites or online services," read the summary section of the complaint.

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"YouTube collects this information from children under the age of 13, and uses it to target advertisements, without giving notice or obtaining advanced, verifiable parental consent as required by COPPA."

The complaint calls for, among other things, the FTC to stop Google from further violating COPPA and to create a means in which to monitor Google's compliance with COPPA.

The groups who filed the complaint are The Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Center for Media Justice, Common Sense, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Federation of California, Consumers Union (the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports), Corporate Accountability, Consumer Watchdog, Defending the Early Years, Electronic Privacy Information Center, New Dream, Obligation, Inc., Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Parents Across America, Parents Television Council, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Public Citizen, The Story of Stuff Project, Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Childhood Entertainment, and U.S. PIRG.

Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy stated on Monday that he believed YouTube's collecting data on kids was comparable to Facebook, saying that "Google has focused its huge resources on generating profits instead of protecting privacy."

"Google has acted duplicitously by falsely claiming in its terms of service that YouTube is only for those who are age 13 or older, while it deliberately lured young people into an ad-filled digital playground," said Chester.

The FTC complaint over alleged unlawful data collection came as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the U.S. Senate over concerns regarding data privacy issues on the popular social media site.

A major focus of the testimony was Cambridge Analytica, a London-based entity that received the personal data of about 50 million Facebook users from University of Cambridge Professor Aleksandr Kogan, who had gathered them through via a survey he created for the site.

From there, Cambridge Analytica reportedly gave the information to the Trump campaign to help them better target voters. 

"Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company. For most of our existence, we focused on all of the good that connecting people can do," stated Zuckerberg in his testimony, according to a transcript by Bloomberg Government.

"But it's clear now that we didn't do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm, as well. And that goes for fake news, for foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy."

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