The Federal Trade Commission has voted to fine Google $150 million to $200 million to settle accusations that its YouTube subsidiary had been illegally collecting personal information about children. More than 20 consumer advocacy groups signed a complaint to the F.T.C. saying that the video platform was violating a federal privacy law by collecting and exploiting the information. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act prohibits online services aimed at children under 13 from collecting a child’s personal details without a parent’s permission.
YouTube has long maintained that its platform is not intended for children under 13 and that it deletes accounts when it determines that a user is under 13. However, some of its most popular channels are clearly aimed at young children and sometimes feature young children as the channels’ stars. YouTube also maintains a separate app for younger users, called YouTube Kids, which recently got a revamp.
Google was already subject to an F.T.C. consent order when these latest issues with YouTube arose. That consent order was issued in 2011 for deceptive data-mining involving Google’s now-defunct social network Buzz. In 2012, the company was accused of deceiving users of Apple’s Safari browser about its data-mining practices. In that case, Google settled charges that it had violated the consent order by agreeing to pay $22.5 million.
The YouTube settlement would be the largest civil penalty ever obtained by the F.T.C. in a children’s privacy case. The agency levied a fine of $5.7 million against the owners of social video-sharing app TikTok this year for children’s privacy violations. Last month, the F.T.C. charged Facebook with a $5 billion fine for abusing its users’ personal data. The amount of the YouTube settlement still has to be approved by the Justice Department.