YouTube has announced a a raft of new measures after being fined a record Ksh 17.7 billion ($170 million) by a US regulator for violating children’s privacy laws.
The new measures are aimed at better protecting children using its platform, reducing data collection on content aimed at kids, and the capacity for advertisers to target young viewers through ads on such content.
Google, which owns YouTube, on Wednesday agreed to pay the sum in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The video-streaming site had been accused of collecting data on children under 13, without parental consent.
The FTC said the data was used to target ads to the children, which contravened the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa).
“There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law,” said FTC chairman Joe Simons.
He added that when it came to complying with Coppa, Google had refused to acknowledge that parts of its main YouTube service were directed at children.
However, in presentations to business clients, the company is accused of painting a different picture.
For example, the FTC said the tech firm had told Mattel: “YouTube is today’s leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels.”
YouTube also regularly reviewed content for inclusion in its separate YouTube Kids app.
Google will have to pay 13.5 billion ($136 million) to the FTC – the largest ever fine in a Coppa case – and a further Ksh 3.5 billion ($34 million) to the state of New York.
However, one of the five FTC commissioners, Rohit Chopra, said in a statement that he thought the settlement did not go far enough.
He argued that Google had “baited” children on YouTube with videos featuring nursery rhymes and cartoons.
In the new measures announced by YouTube, starting in about four months, it will treat data from anyone watching children’s content on YouTube as coming from a child, regardless of the age of the user.
“This means that we will limit data collection and use on videos made for kids only to what is needed to support the operation of the service. We will also stop serving personalized ads on this content entirely, and some features will no longer be available on this type of content, like comments and notifications. In order to identify content made for kids, creators will be required to tell us when their content falls in this category, and we’ll also use machine learning to find videos that clearly target young audiences, for example those that have an emphasis on kids characters, themes, toys, or games,” YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki said in a blog.
YouTube changes to affect advertisers, content creators
The changes are set to impact on both advertisers and content creators with brands looking to reach younger users being denied access to the same levels of data they have had up till now, while for creators, losing notifications will likely be a blow to their awareness efforts.
In order to identify content made for kids, YouTube says creators will be required to tell it when their content falls in this category, and the platform will also use machine learning to find videos that clearly target young audiences, for example those that have an emphasis on kids characters, themes, toys, or games.
“Responsibility is our number one priority at YouTube, and nothing is more important than protecting kids and their privacy. We’ve been significantly investing in the policies, products and practices to help us do this. From 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. We’ve been taking a hard look at areas where we can do more to address this, informed by feedback from parents, experts, and regulators, including COPPA concerns raised by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General that we are addressing with a settlement announced today,” she added.
–Additional reporting by BBC.