Google and YouTube have been hit with a proposed class action that alleges the companies have profited from personal information collected from children younger than 13 for advertising purposes without consent from parents.
Stressed in the lawsuit is that the entirety of the $170 million fine levied against Google by the FTC in September 2019 will be kept by the U.S. government and New York State. The fine, the plaintiff argues, falls short in that it does not compensate those harmed by Google and YouTube’s violations of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The lawsuit specifies that the plaintiff seeks damages not under federal law, but under a Massachusetts law known as Chapter 93A, which concerns prohibitions on the collection of children’s data that parallel those of the FTC.
According to the case, the plaintiff’s kids have, over the last four years, consistently viewed YouTube channels directed toward children. Unlike television advertisements, the suit says, YouTube ads can be customized toward a particular viewer through what’s known as “behavioral advertising.” Which YouTube users see which ads depend on factors such as viewing history and one’s pattern of use of Google’s other services, the suit explains, noting that behavioral advertising is turned on by default on monetized channels. The lawsuit notes that content creators are discouraged by Google from deactivating behavioral advertising in that doing so may significantly reduce how much money they can make from their channel.
Despite the prevalence of behavioral advertising, particularly on child-focused YouTube channels, the defendants opted to not obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting data from those under 13, according to the lawsuit. Further, although Google is well aware that certain YouTube content is designed for young children, the company did not treat the channels offering such any differently for the purposes of data collection than other content available on the platform.
The complaint looks to cover all children residing in Massachusetts who, at a time when the children were under 13 years old, viewed videos on YouTube and from whom Google collected, used or disclosed personal information without obtaining verifiable parental consent.