A British father of three, Duncan McCann is suing YouTube on behalf of 5 million British children. The class-action lawsuit alleges that YouTube violates the privacy and data rights of children under the age of 13.
A Violation of GDPR?
Recital 38 of GDPR says that “children merit specific protection when their personal data is used for the purposes of marketing because they may be less aware of the risks, consequences and safeguards concerned.”
At the heart of this lawsuit is the accusation that Google (YouTube’s parent company) is harvesting children’s data without “explicit permission and selling it to advertisers to target children.”
It cannot be right that Google can take children’s private data without explicit permission and then sell it to advertisers to target children. I believe it is only through legal action and damages that these companies will change their behaviour, and it is only through a class action that we can fight these companies on an equal basis.
This is the first class-action lawsuit in Europe relating to children’s privacy rights. If the court rules in favour of Mr McCann, its impact will reverberate within the tech industry where the subject of children’s data rights is a contested topic.
Social media giants including TikTok have been accused of similar invasive practices. In 2019, the FTC gave TikTok a $5.7 million fine for illegally collecting children’s data. More recently, the company is facing an investigation from the Dutch Data Protection Authority over its use of children’s data.
A Repeated Pattern of Behaviour?
In 2019, the FTC fined Google and YouTube $170 million in damages for violating the children’s privacy law in the US. Following the fine, Google made a few changes at YouTube.
For example, creators had to make it clear if their content was intended for kids. This allowed YouTube to switch off ad targeting on the videos. In addition, YouTube Kids (a separate platform specifically for children) featured limited advertisement.
Google’s main argument in this suit may be that YouTube is not for children under 13. YouTube Kids (its platform for children) have better safeguards for this reason.
A YouTube spokesperson said the following,
We don’t comment on pending litigation. YouTube is not for children under the age of 13. We launched the YouTube Kids app as a dedicated destination for kids and are always working to better protect kids and families on YouTube.
Should tech companies be doing more to protect children’s data rights?
McCann challenges Google’s changes stating that they place “too much burden on the content creators.”
Google has been profiting from kids’ attention for years and it is time to change that. It is inconceivable that YouTube doesn’t know its services are heavily accessed by children. Google must stop breaking the law,
This case isn’t really about ads, I think the price of YouTube’s services is that we’re seeing lots of children addicted, influenced, and exploited by Google and it is unlawful to data-mine children under 13 in the UK.
It is important to note that the ICO’s newly enacted Children’s Code supports the idea that tech companies should do more to protect children. The code covers all services that design, develop or provide online services that are “likely” to be accessed by children.
The word “likely” in the regulation challenges YouTube’s argument that the site’s intended audience is not children. However, it remains to be seen what the wide-ranging impact of the law will be since enforcement will begin in September 2021.
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