04 Sep Google Is Fined $170 Million for Violating Childrenâs Pri…
Google agreed on Wednesday to pay a record $170 million fine and make changes to protect childrenâs privacy on YouTube, as regulators said the video site had knowingly and illegally harvested personal information from children and used it to profit by targeting them with ads.
Critics denounced the agreement, dismissing the fine as paltry and the required changes as inadequate for protecting childrenâs privacy.
The penalty and changes were part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and New Yorkâs attorney general, which had accused YouTube of violating the federal Childrenâs Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.
Regulators said that YouTube, which is owned by Google, had illegally gathered childrenâs data â including identification codes used to track web browsing over time â without their parentsâ consent.
The site also marketed itself to advertisers as a top destination for young children, even as it told some advertising firms that they did not have to comply with the childrenâs privacy law because YouTube did not have viewers under 13. YouTube then made millions of dollars by using the information harvested from children to target them with ads, regulators said.
To settle the charges, YouTube agreed to the $170 million penalty, with $136 million going to the trade commission and $34 million to New York State. It is the largest civil penalty ever obtained by the commission in a childrenâs privacy case, dwarfing the previous record fine of $5.7 million against the owner of the social video-sharing app TikTok this year.
Under the settlement, which the F.T.C. approved in a 3-to-2 vote, YouTube also agreed to create a system that asks video channel owners to identify the childrenâs content they post so that targeted ads are not placed in such videos. YouTube must also obtain consent from parents before collecting or sharing personal details like a childâs name or photos, regulators said.
The move is the latest enforcement action taken by regulators in the United States against technology companies for violating usersâ privacy, indicating the Trump administrationâs willingness to aggressively pursue the powerful corporations. It follows a $5 billion privacy settlement between the trade commission and Facebook in July over how the company collected and handled user data.
But critics of the settlement, including Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, described the $170 million penalty as a slap on the wrist for one of the worldâs richest companies.
âThe F.T.C. let Google off the hook with a drop-in-the-bucket fine and a set of new requirements that fall well short of what is needed to turn YouTube into a safe and healthy place for kids,â Mr. Markey said in a statement.
Childrenâs advocates who lodged their own privacy complaint against YouTube with the F.T.C. last year said that Google had simply agreed to abide by a childrenâs privacy law it was already obligated to comply with. COPPA prohibits operators of online services from collecting personal data, like home addresses, from children under 13 without a parentâs verifiable permission.
âMerely requiring Google to follow the law, thatâs a meaningless sanction,â said Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a nonprofit group whose efforts in the 1990s helped lead to the passage of the childrenâs privacy law. âItâs the equivalent of a cop pulling somebody over for speeding at 110 miles an hour, and they get off with a warning.â
The agreement split the trade commission along partisan lines, with the agencyâs three Republican commissioners voting to approve it and the two Democratic commissioners dissenting.
In a statement, two of the Republican commissioners, Joseph J. Simons, the agencyâs chairman, and Christine S. Wilson, said that the settlement âachieves a significant victory for the millions of parents whose children watch child-directed content on YouTube.â They said it was the first time a platform would have to ask its content producers to identify themselves as creators of childrenâs material.
The agreement, they added, âsends a strong message to childrenâs content providers and to platforms about their obligation to comply with the COPPA rule.â
Although the settlement prohibits YouTube and Google from using or sharing childrenâs data they have already obtained, Rohit Chopra, a Democratic commissioner, said that it did not hold company executives personally accountable for illegal data-mining of children. The other Democratic commissioner, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, said that the agreement did not go far enough by requiring YouTube itself to proactively identify childrenâs videos on its platform.
âNo individual accountability, insufficient remedies to address the companyâs financial incentives and a fine that still allows the company to profit from its lawbreaking,â Mr. Chopra wrote in his dissent. âThe terms of the settlement were not even significant enough to make Google issue a warning to its investors.â
COPPA, the strongest federal consumer privacy statute in the United States, gives the trade commission the authority to level fines of up to $42,530 for each violation.
Noah Phillips, a Republican member of the commission, argued that Congress should give the agency more guidance about how to levy fines.
In a blog post on Wednesday about the settlement, YouTubeâs chief executive, Susan Wojcicki, said that ânothing is more important than protecting kids and their privacy.â She added, âFrom its earliest days, YouTube has been a site for people over 13, but with a boom in family content and the rise of shared devices, the likelihood of children watching without supervision has increased.â
YouTube said that not only had it agreed to stop placing targeted ads on childrenâs videos,…