UK: YouTube violates children's privacy, according to a new $3.2 billion lawsuit . "The real price of YouTube's "free" services is that children are addicted, influenced and exploited.
The new lawsuit seeks to force YouTube to stop spying on children under 13 and to compensate millions of underage users who have viewed the videos on Google's platform for more than two years. A technology researcher by the name of Duncan McCann has filed a lawsuit in the U.K. High Court and is acting as the representative plaintiff in the case - a similar, though not identical, proceeding to a U.S. class action. Duncan has three children, all under the age of 13, who go on YouTube and whose data was collected and targeted ads by Google, according to a Foxglove press release.
Foxglove, a British non-profit technology advocacy organization, is supporting the demand. The group alleges that YouTube's targeting and profiting from a children's audience violates UK data protection law and the EU's General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which protect the right to privacy.
"YouTube and its parent company Google are ignoring laws designed to protect children. They know full well that millions of children watch YouTube. They make money by illegally collecting data about these young children when they watch videos on YouTube and then running highly targeted ads designed to influence vulnerable young minds," Foxglove said Monday in a press release.
In a statement, a Google spokesman said that YouTube is not intended for users under the age of 13:
"We launched the YouTube Kids application as a destination for kids and we're still working to better protect children and families on YouTube. Nevertheless, the platform's popularity with children has long overshadowed traditional television.
According to Foxglove, a report by UK media regulator Ofcom this year found that three-quarters of children aged 5 to 15 watch videos on YouTube, as well as half of those aged 3 to 4. This case is the first in Europe against a technology company on behalf of children, and one of the largest data collection actions to date.
Google has already taken other actions to protect children's privacy online
Google has touted YouTube's popularity with children among advertisers for years. In presentations to toy manufacturers Mattel (which makes Barbie) and Hasbro (which makes My Little Pony and Play-Doh), Google boasted that YouTube was "the new Saturday morning cartoon," "the number one website regularly visited by kids," "the current leader in reaching kids 6-11 years old against major TV channels," and "voted unanimously as the favorite website for kids 2-12 years old," the group reported in its press release.
In the United States, Google has already had to pay regulators for spying on children. Last year, Google was forced to pay the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) a record $170 million for alleged violations of COPPA, the U.S. children's privacy law. The FTC launched an investigation after receiving numerous complaints from consumer groups and privacy advocates.
You do not need to be logged in or registered to view most videos on YouTube, so there is no age rating. Anyone can watch videos, including children. According to an email obtained by the FTC at the time, a Google employee wrote, "We don't have users under 13 on YouTube and the platform/site is mainstream, so there is no channel/content for kids and there is no need to comply with COPPA.
YouTube is not "free - we pay for it with our privacy and our children's mental health.
The British lawsuit refers to the same claims YouTube made to Mattel and Hasbro and links them to a February report by the British government. British legislation, such as COPPA, protects the personal information of children under the age of 13. Foxglove claims that this makes YouTube's actions against the law :
"We think it's illegal because YouTube processes the data of every child who uses the service, including children under the age of 13. They benefit from this data because they are paid by advertisers to place targeted ads on their YouTube site. They do all of this without the explicit consent of the children's parents. Under the GDPR and UK law, companies cannot process data from children under 13 *anywhere* without the explicit consent of the parents. Parents have not consented to the many ways YouTube uses children's data.
McCann, the representative plaintiff in the action, said:
"My kids love YouTube, and I want them to be able to use it. But it's not "free" - we pay for it with our privacy and our children's mental health. I try to be relatively aware of what's going on with my kids' data online, but even so, it's simply impossible to fight Google's lure and influence, which comes from its power of surveillance. There's a huge power imbalance between us and them, and it needs to be corrected.