YouTube to cough up $170mn in fines over charge of grabbing kids’ data

Google’s video platform YouTube has been fined $170 million, settling allegations that it gathered children’s data online without the consent of their parents, in violation of federal law.

The fines include $136 million for the most recent charges, while the company will pay another $34 million to settle similar claims brought previously by New York state’s attorney general, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced on Wednesday. The settlement is the largest since a law prohibiting the collection of information on children under 13 years came into effect in 1998, known by its acronym, COPPA.

The company is accused of collecting web data on children’s YouTube channels in order to deliver millions of dollars in targeted advertisements to viewers.

“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.”

Though YouTube says its platform is intended for people aged 13 and older, the FTC found that “some of YouTube’s individual channels – such as those operated by toy companies – are child-directed and therefore must comply with COPPA.”

FTC commissioners Rebecca Slaughter and Rohit Chopa also issued dissenting statements insisting the penalties did “not go far enough” for YouTube’s “extremely serious” privacy violations.

In addition to the historic fines – which now have to be approved in the courts – going forward YouTube will also be required to notify channel owners about their obligation under federal law to obtain parental consent before grabbing any data on children’s browsing habits.

Google has not yet addressed the FTC’s findings.