YouTube to pay $170M fine after violating kids' privacy law

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WASHINGTON - Google’s video site YouTube has been fined $170 million to settle allegations it collected children’s personal data without their parents’ consent.

The Federal Trade Commission fined Google $136 million and the company will pay an additional $34 million to New York state to resolve similar allegations.

The fine is the largest the agency has yet leveled against Google, although it is tiny compared to the $5 billion fine the FTC imposed against Facebook this year for privacy violations.

The FTC has been investigating YouTube for the way it handles the data of kids under the age of 13. Young children are protected by a federal law that requires parental consent before companies can collect and share their personal information.

“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. Yet when it came to complying with the law protecting children’s privacy, he said, “the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.”

YouTube has said its service is intended for ages 13 and older, although younger kids commonly watch videos on the site and many popular YouTube channels feature cartoons or sing-a-longs made for children.

YouTube has its own app for children, called YouTube Kids; the company also launched a website version of the service in August. The site says it requires parental consent and uses simple math problems to ensure that kids aren’t signing in on their own.

YouTube Kids does not target ads based on viewer interests the way YouTube proper does. The children’s version does track information about what kids are watching in order to recommend videos. It also collects personally identifying device information.

The vote was 3-2 by the FTC commissioners, with Simons and the two other Republicans approving the terms of the settlement and the two Democrats opposing them.

Commissioner Rohit Chopra, a Democrat, noted it was the third time since 2011 that the agency had sanctioned Google for privacy violations, saying “This latest violation is extremely serious.”

The illegal harvesting of children’s data was “extremely lucrative” for Google, Chopra wrote in his dissent. Like the recent settlement with Facebook, he asserted, the Google deal has “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.”

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