YouTube and Those Kiddos. Greed or Weird Fascination?

September 26, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_t[1]Note: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

Google and its YouTube subsidiary are in probably in trouble again because they are spying on children. Vox explores if “Is YouTube Tracking Your Kids Again?” and sending them targeted ads. Two reports find that YouTube continues to collect data on kids despite promises not to do so. If YouTube is collecting data and sending targeted ads to young viewers it would violate the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection act (COPPA) and Google’s consent decree with the FTC.

Google agreed to the consent decree with the FTC to stop collecting kids’ online activity and selling it to advertisers. In order to regulate and comply with the decree and COPPA, YouTube creators must say if their channels or individual videos are kid friendly. If they are designated kid friendly then Google doesn’t collect data on the viewers. This only occurs on regular YouTube and not YouTube Kids.

Fairplay and Analytics researched YouTube data collection and released compromising reports. Fairplay, a children’s online safety group, had an ad campaign on YouTube and asked for it to target made for kids videos. The group discovered their ads played on videos that were kids only, basically confirming that targeted ads are still being shown to kids. Analytics found evidence that supports kid data collection too:

“The firm found trackers that Google uses specifically for advertising purposes and what appear to be targeted ads on “made for kids” videos. Clicking on those ads often took viewers to outside websites that definitely did collect data on them, even if Google didn’t. The report is careful to say that the advertising cookies might not be used for personalized advertising — only Google knows that — and so may still be compliant with the law. And Adalytics says the report is not definitively saying that Google violated COPPA: ‘The study is meant to be viewed as a highly preliminary observational analysis of publicly available information and empirical data.’”

Google denies the allegations and claims the information in the reports are skewed. YouTube states that ads on made for kids videos are contextual rather than targeted, implying they are shown to all kids instead of individualizing content. If Google and YouTube are to be in violation of the FTC decree and COPPA, Alphabet Inc would pay a very expensive fine.

It is hard to define what services and products that Google can appropriately offer kids. Google has a huge education initiative with everything from laptops to email services. Republicans and Democrats agree that it is important to protect kids online and hold Google and other companies liable. Will Google pay fines and not worry about the consequences? I have an idea. Let’s ask Meta’s new kid-oriented AI initiative. That sounds like a fine idea.

Whitney Grace, September 26, 2023


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