A proposed class action lawsuit alleges Google and YouTube have violated several California laws by collecting the personal information of children under 13 years old without their parents’ consent in order to deliver targeted advertisements.
The lawsuit comes after Google and YouTube agreed on September 4, 2019 to pay a record $170 million to settle allegations in a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the New York Attorney General over apparent violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
According to the case, Google and YouTube, despite agreeing to pay civil fines for their alleged misconduct, never ceased their tracking practices and have continued collecting personal information from children.
Google’s Data Collection Practices
The 43-page complaint explains that Google’s primary source of revenue—approximately $119 billion in 2018—comes from advertising. By collecting information from user searches on its search engine and web traffic on sites it owns, Google, the case says, is able to deliver targeted advertisements to internet users.
Through YouTube, a Google-owned online video-streaming platform, Google can track a plethora of information about user activity, including searches run, videos watched, interaction with ads, voice and audio information, purchase activity, communication with other users, browsing history, and activity on some third-party sites, the lawsuit explains. The tech giant is also able to track users’ location information and unique identifiers such as IP addresses, according to the complaint.
For children under 13, however, entities are prohibited by law from collecting such personal information without verified parental consent. The lawsuit alleges that Google and YouTube have overstepped privacy laws by indiscriminately tracking YouTube users’ activity and personal data despite knowing many of them—millions, in fact—are under 13 years old.
YouTube Isn’t for Kids, YouTube Says
According to the lawsuit, YouTube has specifically attempted to capture the attention of viewers who are under 13 years old, all while “falsely pretending that such minors are not permitted to access the Platform.”
Even though YouTube’s terms of service states the video-sharing platform “is not intended for children under 13,” the defendants are fully aware that children use the service, the case says.
In fact, recent studies have shown that YouTube is “the #1 website regularly visited by kids,” according to the complaint. The lawsuit says this is due in part to co-defendants The Cartoon Network, CookieSwirlC, ChuChu TV Studios, DreamWorks Animation, Hasbro, Mattel, and Ryan ToysReview producing content specifically intended for audiences under 13 years old.
The lawsuit claims the defendants have “actively sought” to increase both the number of minor YouTube viewers and the time they spend watching videos in order to increase advertising revenue.
“The Google Defendants thus manipulated children using their Personal Information into extending their time on the YouTube Platform, which in turn increased the number of advertisements shown to them and increased the revenue earned by the Google Defendants and the Channel Owner Defendants,” the complaint reads.
Why Does This Sound Familiar?
Google and YouTube faced a similar lawsuit filed in April 2018 that has since been dismissed. The judge overseeing the case ruled that the plaintiff’s state law claims were preempted by federal law. In other words, the plaintiff—who was from South Carolina—could not bring claims under California state law.
Unlike the previous case, this lawsuit was filed in California district court by a California resident.
Who Is Covered by this Lawsuit?
The case looks to cover all children and parents or legal guardians of children who used YouTube when they were younger than 13 years old and whose personal information was collected, used, or disclosed by the defendants without verified parental consent. The full complaint can be read below.