YouTube Lawsuit in UK Claims Violation of Children’s Privacy

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YouTube is facing a lawsuit in the United Kingdom that claims it violates children’s privacy. Parent company Google should both know better and know how to fight this. It’s similar to a suit that was brought in the U.S. not too long ago.

Prior YouTube Lawsuit

Just last year the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. filed a lawsuit against YouTube, charging it violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act known as COPPA.

The federal COPPA law imposes restrictions on the collection and use of the personal data of children aged 12 and under. The law states that websites, apps, and digital platforms that collect data from children under 13 are required to post a privacy policy and get a parent’s consent, give parents the option to opt out of having their kids’ information shared, to let parents review their children’s data, and follow sound policies for data storage and retention.

Users do not have to be logged in or registered on YouTube to view most videos, meaning there’s no way it has of not allowing children to have access. The FTC said in its complaint that YouTube courted toy companies Mattel and Hasbro by stating, “YouTube was unanimously voted as the favorite website for kids 2 to 12” and “93 percent of tweens visit YouTube to watch videos.”

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Yet, a Google employee wrote, “We don’t have users that are below 13 on YouTube and platform/site in general audience, so there is no channel/content that is child-directed, and no COPPA compliance is needed.”

You can’t have it both ways – it can’t be very popular with kids while also not having kids visiting. Google and the FTC reached a $170 million settlement.

The UK Lawsuit

You would think Google would have learned their lesson last year. Duncan McCann, a tech researcher, filed a lawsuit in the U.K.’s High Court alleging that YouTube knowingly violated children’s privacy laws. The suit seeks damages in excess of £2.5 billion (approximately $3.2 billion). McCann is serving as representative claimant, which makes it similar to a class-action suit in the U.S.

“YouTube, and its parent company Google, are ignoring laws designed to protect children,” wrote Foxglove, a U.K. tech advocacy group backing the claim.

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“They know full well that millions of children watch YouTube. They’re making money from unlawfully harvesting data about these young children as they watch YouTube videos — and then running highly targeted adverts designed to influence vulnerable young minds,” continued Foxglove.

Just like in the U.S., Google defended itself by saying YouTube is not intended for users under the age of 13. “We launched the YouTube Kids app as a dedicated destination for kids and are always working to better protect kids and families ob YouTube,” claimed Google.

The lawsuit points to the same “gotcha” that the U.S. lawsuit did, the boasting of children’s use of YouTube to Mattel and Hasbro. It also added a U.K. government report from last February that discovered about 75 percent of U.K. children ages five to 15 watch YouTube, and around half of U.K. preschoolers aged three and four do the same.

Foxglove points to a U.K. law that is similar to COPPA: “We think it’s unlawful because YouTube processes the data of every child who uses the service – including kids under 13. They profit from this data, as they are paid by advertisers to place targeted advertising on their YouTube website.

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“They do all this without getting explicit consent from the children’s parents. Under the GDPR and U.K. law, corporations can’t process the data of kids under 13 ‘at all’ without explicit parental consent. Parents haven’t agreed to many ways YouTube takes kids’ data.”

The children’s privacy lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than 5 million children in England and Wales and seeks compensation of between £100 and £500 for every child who watched YouTube content since May 25, 2018 – the day the GDPR went into effect.

“Google’s drive to profit from kids’ attention has turned corners of YouTube into a weird technicolored nightmare,” said Cori Crider, Foxglove director. “The real price of YouTube’s ‘free’ services is kids addicted, influenced, and exploited by Google. It’s already unlawful to data-mine children under 13. but Google won’t clean up its act until forced by the courts.”

The YouTube lawsuit isn’t the only Google product to face children’s privacy complaints. Read on to learn about a complaint lodged with the FTC over Google Play Store allowing “inappropriate” kids apps.

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.

2 comments

  1. “around half of U.K. preschoolers aged three and four do the same.”
    WHY aren’t the parents supervising what the little tykes are watching??? Or are the parents using the computers and YouTube to keep the rug rats and ankle biters out of their hair?

    “The children’s privacy lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than 5 million children in England and Wales and seeks compensation of between £100 and £500 for every child”
    IF the suit is decided against YouTube and Google, who is going to be the beneficiary of money awarded? The affected children? Or the activist(s) who filed the lawsuit? Or perhaps the government? IMNSHO, neither the government nor the activists should get any of the money (and least of all, the lawyers). If the suit is filed for the benefit of the children, they should benefit by the award.

  2. As I said in the article, this UK lawsuit will work similar to a class action lawsuit in the US so I assume the families of those whose children used the service will be the beneficiaries. Just like the class action lawsuit against Apple for the the mobile batteries issue. Anyone who has a version of the iPhone that was affected can file to get $25.

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