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The explosion of the internet and mobile devices has paved new ways for marketers and Cybercriminals to gather children’s data. The active presence of children on social media platforms is not helping either. Whether it’s about online games or watching cartoons online, a huge number of children are accessing mobiles and other smart devices.
In the modern era of digital technologies and the widespread use of the internet, it is essential to protect the children’s identities and data online. Children, their rights and the interest must not be ignored since their personal data can be processed. The failure to take possible measures can result in hefty fines for businesses and online platforms.
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act obliges the online platforms and commercial websites to put parents/guardians in control of whatever information they collect from their children online. Congress passed this act to give parents complete control over their children’s data who are under 13. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued the child’s online privacy protection rule and it has been in place since 2000.
The organizations that run commercial websites or operate ad networks third-party services/plugins used by kid-directed sites are obliged to COPPA compliance. The failure to do so can not only result in strict actions from authorities, but also hefty fines and brand damage.
GDPR- Consent and Minors
The General Data Protection Regulation aims to protect consumer data in online performs. Article 8 in GDPR specifically focuses on the issue of consent and minors in the digital world. According to this article, when the online services (that need consent) are directly provided to any child, the processing of a child’s data is lawful if the children are above or at least 16 years old.
If the child is below 16, then the collection of processing of data is only legal when parents or guardians give consent. An important obligation here is that the controllers/ marketers need to take rational measures to verify consent is authorized by the parents or legal guardians only, as per available technology.
FTC fines Google for Violation of Children’s privacy law
Youtube is one of the widely used platforms by children these days and is obliged by the child protection laws. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission fined Google $170 million following the investigations into Youtube over alleged violations of children’s privacy law. The faction of 23 child advocacy, consumer and privacy groups filed a complaint to the US Federal Trade Commission that Google is collecting the personal data of children and showing an advertisement to those who are aged under 13, hence, violating the child protection laws.
The group – including Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), and 21 other organizations – alleged that even though Google claims that Youtube is for people above 13 it clearly knows that underage children also use this platform. Moreover, it collects the personal information of underage children such as device identifiers, location, phone number, gender, etc. and tracks them across multiple sites. All this data collection and processing was done without parental consent.
After proper investigations, the New York attorney general and FTC alleged that Google has marketed Youtube to advertisers even after knowing that many channels are popular among younger audiences. In addition, it tracked and processed the search and viewing histories of children to show them relative ads. It clearly violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
Joe Simons, chairman FTC said in his talk:
“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients. Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.”
It is reported that $170 million is the largest COPPA fine to date, overshadowing the fine that TikTok’s parent company received in February 2018 for violation of the very same law.
Youtube Step-ups the Protection Game
Taking into account the fine imposed by FTC, last month Youtube formally announced its new policy for creators to label any video that may be appealing to kids. This policy is to be implemented in January 2020. Afterward, if the creators label any video as “directed at kids” then the data collection will be blocked for every viewer of that particular video.
Google confirms that this new policy is the outcome of the $170 million settlement.
As per the terms of the settlement, YouTube is required to
“develop, implement, and maintain a system for Channel Owners to designate whether their Content on the YouTube Service is directed to children.”
The Challenges for Creators
One of the major challenges with this new label system is that the videos will result in reduced ad revenues. For, once the video is labeled as kids all the personalized ads will automatically shut off, only the contextualized advertising will be enabled based on the video. Now, youtube can’t operate its ad-targeting system on children under the age of 13 – a notable problem for the platform with a majority of the young audiences.
Moreover, the child-directed videos will have fewer advantages on their plates since they will lose some of the features. It includes comments sections, end screens, click-through info cards, notification functions, and the community tab. With the removal of all-powerful tools, the creators won’t be able to drive viewers back to a channel.
These new changes in the working of Youtube have left many channel owners in the confusion that whether they are subject to these new policies or not. The creators are reeling over what is exactly the kids’ content. This is making some of the most popular Youtube categories – including gaming videos, toy reviews, family vlogging, etc. – fall into the gray area. Creators are worried about what would happen if they mistakenly mislabel some video.
The consequences of not properly labeling the video as “child-directed” can be very severe for the creators. FTC clearly announced in its September order that it could sue the individual channel owners who fail or abuse this new labeling system. It means the lawsuits will fall entirely on the creators instead of Youtube. The sole responsibility of Youtube is to maintain the new system and provide the creators with ongoing data policy updates.