YouTube and its parent company Google have agreed to pay $170m to US regulators after being accused of violating children’s privacy.
The Federal Trade Commission announced on Wednesday the companies will pay the amount to settle claims the video-sharing website illegally collected personal information from children without their parents’ consent.
YouTube was accused of using cookies, which track users across the internet, on channels directed at children, without first getting the consent of parents. Regulators said the platform then earned millions of dollars by allowing companies to target advertisements at those children.
Joe Simons, the FTC chair, said in a statement: “YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients. Yet when it came to complying with COPPA [the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act], 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 fine follows the record $5bn agreement the FTC recently reached with Facebook after the social media company was accused of violating its users’ privacy.
In both cases, the two Democratic commissioners on the FTC voted against the settlements, warning that they do not go far enough.
As part of Wednesday’s settlement, YouTube must force video creators to identify when their videos are targeted at children. If they are, the company will automatically disable cookies.
Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, one of the Democratic commissioners who voted against the settlement, warned that many smaller video creators would simply lie about whether their content was aimed at children.
She said in a statement: “The order does not require YouTube to police the channels that deceive by mis-designating their content, such as by requiring YouTube to put in place a technological backstop to identify undesignated child-directed content and turn off behavioural advertising.”
YouTube also came under fire earlier this year, when several major advertisers — including Nestlé and Disney — slashed digital advertising following suggestions that the site had facilitated paedophile networks.
Google did not respond to a request for comment.