On 9 April 2018 a number of consumer and children’s privacy advocate groups filed a complaint [PDF] with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), requesting an investigation of Google and YouTube to determine whether the platforms remained in compliance with the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
COPPA “prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in connection with the collection, use, and/or disclosure of personal information from and about children on the Internet.”
The 59-page-long complaint contains point-by-point allegations that YouTube and Google were aware that children under 13 regularly accessed content on a non-restricted area of YouTube and that the service collected data and served advertisements directly to them in a manner that conflicted with COPPA:
A. Portions of YouTube are directed to children[;]
B. Google has actual knowledge that it is collecting and using personal information from children[;]
1. Many content providers directly communicate to YouTube that their content is directed to children[;]
2. Many high-level YouTube representatives have publicly recognized the child-directed content on YouTube[;]
3. YouTube cannot escape COPPA compliance by its “age gate”[;]
C. Google collects personal information from all YouTube users, including children[;]
D. YouTube does not provide parental notice nor obtain parental consent prior to its collection of children’s personal information, as COPPA requires[;]
2. YouTube makes no effort to provide direct parental notice[;]
3. YouTube fails to obtain verifiable parental consent prior to collecting personal information from children.[.]
The complaint contains a number of screen captures and other visual examples of behavior that advocacy groups maintain are evidence that the platforms skirt the law by gathering data from a underage audience.
The groups filing 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 division of Consumer Reports), Corporate Accountability, Consumer Watchdog, Defending the Early Years, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), 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, TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Childhood Entertainment), and USPIRG.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood previously objected to “Hello Barbie” (due to its ability to record ambient sounds in a child’s home) and a Facebook app aimed at children. A representative for the FTC said the regulatory agency has not yet reviewed the complaint, but says it takes COPPA violation allegations “very seriously.”