Lawmakers question Google over kids’ privacy on YouTube
Two members of Congress are calling on Google to address concerns that YouTube might violate children’s privacy.
Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Nebraska Republican, sent a letter this week to Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai asking for more details about how the service collects data.
Their letter comes months after privacy advocates filed a complaint about YouTube with the Federal Trade Commission. The April complaint alleged that YouTube violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA, which bans kid-oriented websites from collecting personal information from children under 13 without their parents’ consent.
The FTC hasn’t said whether an investigation has been opened. It declined to comment Friday.
Google says YouTube isn’t for children under 13, which is why it created a separate app for them, YouTube Kids. The company said in a statement Friday that it will work with the lawmakers to answer their questions.
Advocacy groups have argued that YouTube, despite official terms of service stating it’s not for kids under 13, has long looked the other way as millions of toddlers, preschoolers and preteens spend hours watching popular content on it that’s geared to young children. Its business model relies on tracking IP addresses, search history, device identifiers, location and other personal data about its users so that it can gauge their interests and tailor advertising to them. But the 1998 federal law prohibits internet companies from knowingly collecting such personal data from kids without parental permission.
While the YouTube Kids app provides stronger parental filtering options and privacy protections, it’s not as widely used as the regular service, where the same videos and channels can be found.
Advocacy groups said they hope the congressional attention will push the FTC to act.
“It’s great to have representatives asking these questions about Google because FTC’s investigations are all done in private and we never know what’s going on,” said Josh Golin, director of the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, one of the groups that filed the complaint. “There is concern the FTC has not been aggressive in enforcing COPPA.”