Report: FTC Settles With Google/YouTube Over Kids Privacy Complaints

Google has reportedly joined Facebook in settling with the Federal Trade Commission over its handling of online data and info, in this case children's.

Regulators are under pressure from Congress to pay closer attention to powerful social media sites and their handling, and alleged mishandling, of user info.

According to the Washington Post, the FTC has voted to on the settlement and, like the Facebook vote (According to the Wall Street Journal), they are similarly split along political lines, with the Republicans voting for the settlements and the Democrats against, almost certainly because the Democrats wanted higher fines or tougher conditions.

A trio of senators both sides of the aisle appeared to have issues with a Facebook settlement of "only" $5 billion.

Related: FTC Settles with Web Site Over Children's Privacy Protection

The FTC has apparently been investigating multiple complaints about how Google's YouTube video site collects and sharing of children’s information, as numerous groups have been asking for years.

Earlier this year, FTC chair Joseph Simons told Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who backed the complaints and co-authored the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act YouTube had allegedly violated, said that if YouTube were indeed saying that a toy-review video was not directed toward kids, as Markey said was the case, the FTC would have a problem with that.

In that complaint, the groups said Google has made "substantial profits" from collecting and sharing personal data from kids via YouTube without their parents permission and in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

They argue that because Google knows a lot of kids are on YouTube—“as evidenced by disclosures from content providers, public statements by YouTube executives, and the creation of the YouTube Kids app, which provides additional access and because YouTube's privacy policy "discloses that it collects many types of personal information, including geolocation, unique device identifiers, mobile telephone numbers, and persistent," the company is collecting information from kids under 13, then using it to target ads, and without notice or "verifiable consent" from parents. That, they say violates COPPA, which the FTC is empowered to enforce.

Given that the FTC can levy up to $41,484 per COPPA violation, they reckon that would come to tens of billions of dollars (they calculate Google's net worth at $108 billion) for what they say are particularly egregious violations given that they say Google "had actual knowledge of both the large number of child-directed channels on YouTube and the large numbers of children using YouTube."

If the FTC fine turned out to be only in the millions, that could be one reason that Democrats on the FTC might have issues. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.