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Google and YouTube Pay $170m in Kids’ Privacy Case

Google and YouTube have agreed to pay $170m to settle a case brought by the FTC and New York Attorney General alleging they illegally harvested personal data on children.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires online firms to first seek parental consent if they try to collect data on under-13-year-olds from content specifically targeted at kids.

However, the FTC and New York Attorney General allege in their complaint that Google/YouTube violated COPPA by collecting personal information from viewers of child-oriented channels without asking parents first.

This info came in the form of the “persistent identifiers,” or cookies, used to track individuals across the web for behavioral advertising purposes. Google is said to have made millions off the back of advertising which was targeted using these cookies.

The FTC alleged that although YouTube is a general purpose site, some of its channels — such as the ones run by toy manufacturers like Hasbro and Mattel — are specifically targeted at children and so must comply with COPPA.

In fact, it argued, YouTube explicitly marketed itself as a top online destination for kids in presentations to children’s toy-makers.

“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.”

The settlement is the largest ever seen in a COPPA case since the law was passed in 1998. Some $136m will go to the FTC and $34 to New York.

In addition, Google and YouTube will be required to put in place a new system that allows channel owners to flag any child-directed content on YouTube so that it can ensure it is complying with COPPA.

The firms must also notify channel owners that child-directed content may be subject to the COPPA rules and provide annual training on compliance for employees who deal with YouTube channel owners.

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