Google to pay $170 million penalty for violating children’s privacy rights

In an attempt to settle YouTube’s children privacy violation case with the Federal Trade Commission and the state of New York, Google agreed to pay $170 million penalty. Out of the total sum, $136 million would be paid to the federal government and $34 million to the state of New York. It is so far the largest-ever penalty under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in US history. YouTube has been accused of breaking the law, despite being aware of the privacy laws, by tracking the content viewed by children without the parents’ permission and selling the ads targeted to them.

According to the complaint filed against the tech giant’s video service, YouTube allegedly bragged about its popularity among children told lure the kids content creating like companies like Mattel and Hasbro. It told Mattel that “YouTube is today’s leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels.”

FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement, “YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients. Yet when it came to complying with (federal law banning collecting data on children), the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James said that both the companies abused their power as the two ‘knowingly and illegally monitored, tracked, and served targeted ads to young children just to keep advertising dollars rolling in’.

Google gave out a statement in a blog post regarding the settlement. It said, “We know how important it is to provide children, families and family creators the best experience possible on YouTube and we are committed to getting it right.”

Google mentioned that it would use machine learning algorithms to identify children’s content on YouTube, all of which would be treated as the data coming from a child viewer.

It implies, the company would limit data collection of that content and use the content made for kids only to ‘what is needed to support the operation of the service’. The company added, “We will also stop serving personalized ads on this content entirely, and some features will no longer be available on this type of content, like comments and notifications.”

Few of the FTC commissioners criticised the settlement as too weak. Commissioner Rohit Chopra said the regulator failed to nab any of the company executives personally, who were responsible for the COPPA violation. Chopra said the fine of $170 million was not much for the company which earned nearly $137 billion in 2018 alone and it ‘still allows the company to profit from its lawbreaking’.

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