Reps. Press Google on Kids Data Collection Issues

A bipartisan pair of House members want some answers from Google on data collection by subsidiary YouTube that the legislators say may not square with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA).

That came in a letter from Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, with a copy to Federal Trade Commission chairman Joseph Simons.

COPPA does not allow a website that is either directed to kids or which the operator knows kids use to collect data from children under 13 unless it gets parental consent.

The letter follows a complaint filed by children's privacy protection groups last April with the FTC. Those groups are seeking potentially tens of billions of dollars in fines for what they say has been the company’s collection and sharing of children’s information in violation of that federal law.

The legislators are doing their own digging, seeking a raft of related information from Google by Oct. 17.

Among the data points they are looking for are how YouTube encourages children to use the service, whether algorithms factor age into ads they target or content they recommend, why YouTube Kids content has to originate on the main site, why there is no YouTube age gate if the main channel is only for those 13 and over, how YouTube does determine how old a user is, and whether its children's service programs are flagged to prevent data collection.

"Google collects information on kids under 13 to target them with advertising, and fails to obtain parental consent as required under COPPA," said David Monahan, campaign manager for Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, one of the groups that filed the April complaint. "Google claims that YouTube is only for users 13 and up, despite being the most popular online platform for children. The FTC has yet to take action to stem this illegal conduct," he said. "While we await FTC action, millions of vulnerable children remain at risk."

Just last week, New Mexico Attorney Genera Hector Balderas sued Google, Twitter and other edge players alleging it and app makers were illegally collecting data from children under 13 without their parents' consent.

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.