Google Fined a Whopping $170 Million for Illegally Profiting Off of Kids' Personal Data on YouTube


This should get some attention.

The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday slapped social media giant Google with a record-setting $170 million fine for illegally gathering data about children’s use of the video-sharing site YouTube to sell to marketers for advertising purposes.

But critics say the punishment doesn’t go nearly far enough.

According to The New York Times, Google, which owns YouTube, agreed to settle the charges by paying the money — $136 million to the FTC and $34 million to the state of New York — and make changes in its operations.

“Regulators said YouTube, which is owned by Google, had illegally gathered children’s data — such as identification codes that are used to track web browsing over time — without their parents’ consent,” The Times reported.

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“The site also marketed itself as a top destination for young children to advertisers, even as it told some advertising companies that no compliance with the children’s privacy law was needed because it did not have viewers younger than 13. YouTube then made millions of dollars by using the information harvested from children to target them with ads, regulators said.”

In addition to paying the fine, YouTube also agreed to “set up a system that asks video channel owners to identify the children’s content they post so that targeted ads are not placed in those videos. YouTube must also obtain consent from parents before collecting or sharing personal details like their child’s name or photos, regulators said.”

The agreement settled a complaint that YouTube had violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a 1998 law aimed at protecting internet users under the age of 13 from intrusive marketing actions.

The settlement was approved by the FTC’s three Republican commissioners, The Times reported.

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A statement released by two of the Republicans called it at “a significant victory for the millions of parents whose children watch child-directed content on YouTube,” according to The Times.

It “sends a strong message to children’s content providers and to platforms about their obligation to comply with the COPPA rule,” Chairman Joseph J. Simons and Commissioner Christine S. Wilson wrote, The Times reported.

In a blog post Wednesday, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki outlined several areas where the company would work to protect children in the future.

“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,” she wrote.

“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.”

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The dissenting Democrats, according to The Times, thought the settlement didn’t do enough to hold YouTube executives personally accountable or keep children’s information safe.

“No individual accountability, insufficient remedies to address the company’s financial incentives, and a fine that still allows the company to profit from its lawbreaking,” Commissioner Rohit Chopra wrote in his dissent, according to The Times.

“The terms of the settlement were not even significant enough to make Google issue a warning to its investors.”

Children’s advocates agreed.

The Times reported that the $170 million represents the largest civil penalty for a case of its kind — child privacy online. The previous record fine in such cases was a $5.7 million imposed on the video-sharing site TikTok.

However, it was only a tiny fraction of the $5 billion fine the FTC imposed on Facebook in July for privacy violations.

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said the settlement didn’t send a strong enough message.

“Merely requiring Google to follow the law, that’s a meaningless sanction,” Chester said, according to The Times.

“It’s the equivalent of a cop pulling somebody over for speeding at 110 miles an hour — and they get off with a warning.”

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Joe has spent more than 30 years as a reporter, copy editor and metro desk editor in newsrooms in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Florida. He's been with Liftable Media since 2015.
Joe has spent more than 30 years as a reporter, copy editor and metro editor in newsrooms in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Florida. He's been with Liftable Media since 2015. Largely a product of Catholic schools, who discovered Ayn Rand in college, Joe is a lifelong newspaperman who learned enough about the trade to be skeptical of every word ever written. He was also lucky enough to have a job that didn't need a printing press to do it.