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YouTube UK Accused of Harvesting the Data of Children

Simon Coulthard March 01, 2023

2 Minute Read

A complaint has been filed with the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) against YouTube by Duncan McCann, a staff member at child advocacy group 5Rights.

In it, he accuses the platform of violating UK data privacy laws that place additional restrictions on the collection of the data of children under 13.

He claims that the website collects information about the videos that kids watch, their locations, and the devices they use.

Read more about this topic on The Guardian website.

The Breach of Children’s Data Privacy

Although YouTube's main website is supposedly off-limits to users under 13, McCann's lawsuit claims that the corporation failed to check that younger users were abiding by the rules and only using the main platform with parental permission.

YouTube Kids is a separate app that is available for children under the age of thirteen and has much stricter data processing restrictions than the main platform.

Although YouTube, including YouTube Kids, was used by 89% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 in 2022, only 40% of YouTube users aged three to four exclusively used the Kids app, with the percentage falling even lower for older children.

“Imagine YouTube as an adult stranger following your child ‘online’ with a virtual clipboard recording everything they do,” McCann said in a statement. 

“That is what is happening every day and they are not just doing it with your child. They are doing it with up to 5 million other UK children as well, resulting in an enormous amount of personal information being gathered.”, adds McCann.

In addition to stipulating that the data collected from children be destroyed, the complaint requests that the ICO consider ordering the rollback or deletion of any machine learning system trained on the gathered data.

A YouTube spokesperson said: “Over the years, we’ve made investments to protect kids and families, such as launching a dedicated kids app, introducing new data practices for children’s content, and providing more age-appropriate experiences.

“Building on that long standing approach and following the additional guidance provided by the code, we implemented further measures to bolster children’s privacy on YouTube, such as more protective default settings and a dedicated YouTube supervised experience.

“We remain committed to continuing our engagement with the ICO on this priority work, and with other key stakeholders including children, parents and child protection experts.”

A US regulator fined YouTube $170 million in 2019 for violating children's privacy laws.

This followed a similar charge that it was gathering data on children under the age of 13 without parental consent.

According to Stephanie Hare, author of Technology is Not Neutral, YouTube did not admit responsibility, but it did pay the fine and changed its business practices as a result.

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