FTC Fines Google Citing YouTube Violations of Children’s Privacy Law

In a 3-2 vote, the Federal Trade Commission voted to fine Google an amount between $150 and $200 million. The fine, which was first reported by Politico, is a settlement regarding allegations that Google subsidiary YouTube violated children’s privacy law. 

According to a source familiar with the proceedings, the FTC vote went along party lines. The settlement will now go the U.S. Justice Department for review. 

The FTC investigation of YouTube centered around claims from several privacy groups that the online video platform collected data on pre-teen viewers without parental consent and used the data to deliver ads. The allegation would mean YouTube violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act that specifically limits how companies can scrape data from any user younger than 13. 

Google is not the first company that the FTC is investigating for privacy violations. In July, the commission levied a $5 million fine against Facebook. The fine came after an investigation that revealed the social media giant compromised millions of users’ personal data. This penalty, and Google’s settlement, is being regarded as insufficient when compared to the earnings from these companies. For example, in the first quarter of 2019, Facebook reported earnings of $15.08 billion.

Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, described the proposed settlement as “terribly inadequate” in an email statement to Gizmodo. 

 “They have allowed YouTube to build a children’s media empire through illegal means that now, no one can compete with; all for the cost of a fine which is the equivalent of two to three months of YouTube ad revenue. They should levy a fine which both levels the playing field, and serves as a deterrent to future COPPA violations. This fine would do neither.”

The $200 million would be significantly larger than any such fine imposed by the FTC for similar violations such as the $5.7 million fine it issued against TikTok. However, Google brought in over $100 billion in advertising revenue alone. A statistic that politicians and pundits are both using to make their case that the settlement should be higher. 

For its part, YouTube is taking steps to address these privacy concerns. In late August the company announced it is launching a website version of its mobile app that will be targeted at kids. The site will offer three settings that will target specific age ranges. The hope is that the site will not be victimized by the disturbing videos that have previously brought trouble to the YouTube Kids app. According to Bloomberg, the company is “finalizing plans” that, according to sources, will put an end to the practice of targeting ads to kids.  

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