YouTube faces a new complaint from a coalition of consumer advocacy groups that claims that the popular video website has broken the privacy laws of children by collecting information about minors to sell ads, according to a report by The New York Times.
The lawsuit alleges that YouTube violates the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires YouTube to obtain the consent of parents or guardians before collecting data on children 13 years of age or younger. YouTube already offers a YouTube Kids application for younger users that prohibits targeted advertising, but many children apparently use the regular application anyway. (YouTube's terms of service require users to affirm that they are 13 years of age or older in order to use the service).
According to its terms of service, YouTube says that the site "is not explicitly intended for children under 13 years." The documentation even says that "if you are under 13, do not use the Service". But the coalition feels that the terms of the service are not a sufficiently explicit warning, and YouTube can do more to notify parents and obtain consent before tracking users and selling ad data.
"YouTube is not for kids."
While part of the problem may be due to the fact that parents simply violate YouTube's terms of service by allowing children under the age of 13 to use the site, consumer rights advocates claim that YouTube is still adapting ads to the youngest users who use the site. Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for Childhood Free of Merchants and the leader of the coalition, told the NYT that YouTube is "actively packaging content for children under 13 for advertisers."
In a response to The New York Times, YouTube said it would "evaluate if there are things we can do to improve", but reiterated that "YouTube is not for kids" and directed younger users to the YouTube Kids app, which offers more filtered content and more robust parental controls.
According to reports, the company is also working on a fully curated version of the YouTube Kids app that will be limited to channels manually chosen by human moderators to help stem the tide of conspiracy theories and strange "Elsagate" style videos that have appeared in the application in recent months.