According to Bloomberg, the Federal Trade Commission has been investigating whether YouTube breached the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by using targeted, or “behavioral,” ads on videos that are likely to be watched by children. Collecting data on children under 13 is illegal under COPPA, and the agency is expected to hit the video platform with a multi-million dollar fine.
The agency recently reached a settlement with YouTube, but it has not released the terms.
A spokesperson for YouTube declined to comment, as did the FTC.
The issue first came to light in April 2018 when several consumer groups complained to the FTC that YouTube regularly collected information about minors to use in targeted advertising. Once the regulator began investigating, the groups asked the FTC to force YouTube to move all kids’ videos to its YouTube Kids channel. In the meantime, FTC Chairman Joseph Simons suggested last month that a compromise might see YouTube disabling all ads on the videos in question.
YouTube’s own proposal would keep advertising for children’s videos, but it would ensure that YouTube simply pair the context of a video with a commercial message. For example, a YouTube clip about basketball might feature an advertisement from Adidas.
That solution probably won’t appease the consumer groups though. In a July letter to the FTC, Josh Golin from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood argued on behalf of the groups, saying bans on the platform’s ad targeting would be difficult to enforce, and that removing the feature from select videos doesn’t mean that YouTube won’t continue to track data if children watch other clips.
“Is Google still going to be collecting all the data and creating marketing profiles?” he asked. “That wouldn’t be satisfactory either.”