Sen. Markey, Privacy Groups Have Words for FTC on YouTube 'Investigation'

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has some advice for the Federal Trade Commission if it happens to take action against YouTube, joined by longtime children's privacy advocates.

Sen. Ed Markey

Sen. Ed Markey

The FTC has not confirmed there is an investigation, per custom, but that was not stopping the Senator from getting ahead of the issue in case it is doing so. FTC Chairman Joseph Simons told Markey in a hearing 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. But he would not comment on any possible investigation of the company over such issues.

Markey, who has registered concerns about the social media platform's treatment of children, sent a letter to the FTC in response to reports it was investigating YouTube over its collection of children's data. Markey said he was concerned YouTube had violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), of which Markey was author.

Various privacy groups had filed a formal complaint against YouTube in April 2018, seeking potentially tens of billions of dollars in fines for what they said has been the company’s collection and sharing of children’s information in violation of federal law. "As the House author of COPPA, I believe these are credible allegations and urge the Commission to investigate them as soon as possible," Markey said at the time. 

RELATED: Markey: Kids Need Online Privacy Constitution

In his letter, Markey said that, assuming the FTC did come out with a consent decree —essentially a settlement of charges with accompanying conditions and actions for YouTube — it should include "deleting all data under Google's control collected from children under 13 (even if that user is now 13 or older); instituting mechanisms to identify on an ongoing basis any YouTube users under 13; and prohibiting Google from launching any new child-directed product or service in the future until the product or service has been reviewed and approved by an independent panel of experts, including child development and privacy experts, to be appointed by the FTC."

Markey also wants YouTube parent Google to warn parents that no one under 13 should even use YouTube, as well as to "establish a fund to produce and amplify noncommercial, quality content for children."

“Companies of all types have strong business incentives to gather and monetize information about children,” Markey told the FTC. “Personal information about a child can be leveraged to hook consumers for years to come, so it is incumbent upon the FTC to enforce federal law and act as a check against the ever increasing appetite for children’s data.”

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy which complained to the FTC about Youtube, had their own list of potential conditions, which they spelled out in their own letter to the FTC.

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.