By Sophia Morris, LAW360
June 21, 2019
Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass, has welcomed the possibility of a Federal Trade Commission investigation into potential child privacy violations by YouTube, following media reports that the agency is looking into the streaming site's data collection practices.
The possible investigation, which was first reported by the Washington Post on June 19, is said to stem from complaints brought by parents and consumer advocacy groups concerned that YouTube has improperly collected children's data. The site is meant to restrict use to people 13 years and older.
An FTC spokesperson told Law360 Friday that investigations are not public, and therefore it cannot confirm or deny whether a particular company is being investigated.
Child advocacy, consumer and privacy groups including Consumer Watchdog, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy filed a complaint in April 2018 that urged the FTC to investigate YouTube and its parent company, Google LLC, for purported violations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.
The complaint said that despite being aimed at users aged 13 and above, Google is well aware that YouTube features numerous videos aimed at children and profits off the platform's popularity with kids, collecting their data without permission and using the information for targeted advertising.
Responding to the media reports, the senator, who has previously pressed the FTC about possible violations of COPPA by YouTube, said that such an investigation is "long overdue."
"It is no secret that kids flock to YouTube every day, but the company has yet to take the necessary steps to protect its youngest users," Senator Markey said in a June 19 statement. "I am pleased to see reports that the FTC is working to hold YouTube accountable for its actions."
Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he will soon introduce legislation aimed at ensuring that children's privacy is protected online. The proposed legislation will "combat online design features that coerce children and create bad habits, commercialization and marketing that manipulate kids and push them into consumer culture, and the amplification of inappropriate and harmful content on the internet."
"It's time for the adults in the room to step in and ensure that corporate profits no longer come before kids' privacy," the senator said.
In early June, YouTube responded to criticism that it had failed to combat child pornography on the site by detailing recent changes it had made aimed at protecting the privacy of children. These included disabling comments on videos that feature minors, limiting recommendations on videos that feature children and restricting the ability of minors to livestream video.
A representative for Google declined to comment Friday.
--Additional reporting by Shayna Posses. Editing by Connor Relyea.