Analysis | YouTube faces fresh complaint over its children’s privacy practices (2023)



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Below: Microsoft and Activision have a new proposal for U.K. antitrust officials, and Meta says chronological feeds are coming to Europe. First:

YouTube faces fresh complaint over its children’s privacy practices

Children’s privacy advocates are urging federal regulators to consider issuing a massive fine “upwards of tens of billions of dollars” and imposing sweeping privacy limits on Google-owned YouTube over reports that it may have let companies track kids’ data across the internet.


Ad tracking firm Adalytics last week released a report suggesting that YouTube served ads for adults on videos labeled as “made for kids,” stoking concern that the video-sharing giant may be trampling on federal privacy protections for children, as the New York Times first reported.

In response, Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the matter, writing that the purported tactics may have “impacted hundreds of thousands, to potentially millions, of children across the United States.”

Now children’s privacy advocates including Fairplay and the Center for Digital Democracy are kicking the process into high-gear, filing a formal complaint with the FTC on Wednesday that floats forceful new privacy restrictions for YouTube.


The complaint alleges that Adalytics’ research and additional tests run by Fairplay raise “serious questions about whether Google is violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act,” or COPPA. The law requires sites to get parental consent to collect data from users under 13.

Google and its subsidiary YouTube in 2019 struck a then-record $170 million settlement with the FTC and New York’s attorney general over allegations it illegally collected personal data from children without parent consent. As part of the pact, the company entered into a consent decree with the agency that set new limits on its privacy practices.

Fairplay Executive Director Josh Golin said that launching an investigation would enable the FTC to use its subpoena power to further corroborate the Adalytics findings and determine if the company continues to be in violation of the law.


Given the scope of the potential infraction and YouTube’s popularity with kids, he said, another violation would be “unprecedented” in scale.

“They would be the first company that massively violated COPPA at scale, got caught doing it, and then while operating under consent decree did it again,” he said.

Under COPPA, violators can be fined up to $50,120 per infraction. The complaint alleges that since “likely millions of violations have occurred,” the FTC’s penalty should be tens of billions.

It also calls for the agency to force YouTube to turn over “all ill-gotten gains” from any illegal practices and to order a “prohibition on the monetization of minors’ data” against the giant.

Google pushed back on the findings underpinning the complaint. Spokesman Michael Aciman said in a statement that the “conclusions in this report point to a fundamental misunderstanding of how advertising works on made for kids content.”


“We do not allow ads personalization on made for kids content and we do not allow advertisers to target children with ads across any of our products,” Aciman said. “We also do not offer advertisers the option to directly target made for kids content as a whole.”

The FTC declined to comment on the complaint.

The dispute could mark a major new test of the FTC’s ability to rein in tech giants’ privacy practices when it comes to children’s data.

The agency in May announced a plan to bar Facebook parent company Meta from monetizing data from users under 18, marking one of its most aggressive enforcement actions on the issue to date. The FTC is seeking to do so by updating its landmark 2020 privacy pact with the giant.

Meta spokesman Andy Stone said that the company “will vigorously fight this action and expect to prevail,” blasting the FTC’s announcement as a “political stunt.”


The new complaint calls for similar restrictions to be placed on Google, which could pave the way for another standoff for the FTC with one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful companies.

Our top tabs

Microsoft, Activision offer to sell streaming rights for U.K. deal approval

Activision is offering to sell its video game streaming rights to French rival Ubisoft under a new proposal aimed at convincing U.K. regulators to greenlight a deal between Microsoft and the “Call of Duty” maker, Kate Holton and Paul Sandle report for Reuters.

Microsoft’s proposed purchase of Activision announced last February faced pushback from U.K. antitrust enforcers, who blocked the transaction amid concerns that it would stifle competition in the cloud gaming industry. The nation’s Competition and Markets Authority is now hearing renewed terms from the companies.


Microsoft would not be allowed to release games developed by Activision exclusively on its Xbox Cloud Gaming streaming service or control licensing terms of rival services. “Instead … Ubisoft will acquire the cloud streaming rights for Activision's existing PC and console games, and any new games released by Activision in the next 15 years,” Holton and Sandle write.

E.U. antitrust officials are examining whether the U.K. proposition would affect concessions made to win approval from the European Commission, a spokesperson told the outlet.

Pennsylvania court says police can’t hide social media monitoring policy

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday ruled that state police are not allowed to hide how they monitor the public on social media, Mark Scolforo reports for the Associated Press.

“All four Democratic justices supported the majority decision, which said the lower Commonwealth Court went beyond its authority in trying to give the state police another attempt to justify keeping details of the policy a secret,” Scolforo writes. Under the ruling, police must provide an unredacted copy of its social media monitoring guidelines to the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter.


State law enforcement representatives have argued that fully disclosing how they use software to monitor online activities could risk public safety and make investigations less effective. A state police spokesperson said law enforcement officials are reviewing the decision.

Civil liberties advocates applauded the move. The ruling “sort of puts law enforcement on the same playing field as all government agencies,” Andrew Christy, a lawyer with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, told the AP. “If they have a legal justification to keep something secret, then they have to put forth sufficient evidence to justify that.”

Meta rolling out chronological feeds to meet E.U. standards

Meta is rolling out non-personalized content feeds on Facebook and Instagram in Europe ahead of an Aug. 25 deadline to meet requirements for a sweeping E.U. digital law, TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas reports.


The Digital Services Act directs qualifying entities to run annual risk assessments about illegal content on their sites, submit to independent audits and provide researchers with data about how their platforms operate. Users on larger platforms must also be offered the option to see content as it occurs chronologically, as opposed to content fed to them with recommended algorithms.

“The bloc’s concern is that AI-driven feeds undermine user autonomy and choice, as well as setting up conditions where users could be subject to filter bubbles and at risk of addiction or even facing automated manipulation,” Lomas writes.

Rant and rave

Elon Musk says X plans to remove headlines when news articles are posted on the platform.

This is coming from me directly. Will greatly improve the esthetics.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 22, 2023

Journalists rebuked the move. City & State New York editor Peter Sterne:

Musk is doing absolutely everything he can to drive journalists off this platform.

— Peter Sterne (@petersterne) August 22, 2023

Author and journalist Jeff Sharlet:

This isn’t small. This is disastrous for journalism, particularly independent journalism, which means democracy.

— Jeff Sharlet ( (@JeffSharlet) August 22, 2023

Agency scanner

Inside the industry

John Warnock, Adobe CEO who led desktop publishing revolution, dies at 82 (Michael S. Rosenwald)

Competition watch

Privacy monitor

Not everything is secret in encrypted apps like iMessage and WhatsApp (Shira Ovide)



Before you log off

— NO CONTEXT HUMANS 👤 (@HumansNoContext) August 22, 2023

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