YouTube is facing a new complaint from a coalition of consumer advocacy groups that claims that the popular video website has broken children’s privacy laws by collecting information on underage viewers in order to sell ads, according to a report in The New York Times.
The complaint claims that YouTube is in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires YouTube to get consent from parents or guardians before it collects any data on children 13 years old or younger. YouTube already provides a separate YouTube Kids app for younger users that bans targeted advertising, but many children apparently use the regular app anyway. (YouTube’s terms of service require users to affirm that they are above the age of 13 in order to use the service.)
According to its terms of service, YouTube says the site is explicitly “not intended for children under 13.” The documentation even says that “if you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service.” But the coalition feels that the terms of service isn’t an explicit enough warning, and YouTube can do more to notify parents and obtain consent before tracking users and selling ad data.
While part of the problem may stem from the fact that parents are simply violating YouTube’s terms of service by allowing children under 13 to use the site, the consumer rights groups complaint claims that YouTube is still tailoring ads to younger users who are using the site. Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the leader of the coalition, commented to the NYT that YouTube is “actively packaging under-13 content for advertisers.”
In a response to TheNew York Times, YouTube said that it would “evaluate if there are things we can do to improve,” but reiterated that “YouTube is not for children” and directed younger users toward the YouTube Kids app, which offers more filtered content and more robust parental controls.
The company is also reportedly working on a completely curated version of the YouTube Kids app that will be limited to channels that are hand-picked by human moderators in order to help stem the tide of conspiracy theories and bizarre “Elsagate”-style videos that have popped up in the app in recent months.