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YouTube Has Been Using Your Child's Online Data To Target Them With Ads

Publish date December 19, 2019 Views: 547 Comments: 0
YouTube, the biggest online video platform in the world has been fined $170 million due to illegally harvesting personal information and using that information to target them with ads. This is the largest penalty handed down for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. With around 81% of parents allowing their children to watch YouTube, with 34%  of those on a regular basis, this is something that affects many in the US and around the world.

How Youtube is Using Children Youtube to Steal Your Child’s Data

YouTube, which is owned by Google gathered data including identification codes that track web browsing over a period of time without getting their parents’ consent. Making millions of dollars from targeted ads, some advertisers even claimed that they did not have to comply with COPPA as their viewers were no younger than 13.

“Google and YouTube knowingly and illegally monitored, tracked and served targeted ads to young children just to keep advertising dollars rolling in,” Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, said in a statement on Wednesday. “These companies put children at risk and abused their power.”

As a result, YouTube must pay the hefty fine as well as create a system that insists on video channel owners to clearly identify children’s content that they post so that targeted ads are not included in that content. There is also the matter of YouTube having to obtain consent from parents before being allowed to either collect or share personal details including children’s names or photos.

“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” the FTC chairman, Joe Simons, said in a statement. Yet when it came to complying with the law protecting children’s privacy, he said, “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.”

YouTube has agreed to pay the hefty fine and make changes to its system, however, many people are critical of the settlement, including Senator Edward J. Markey who has stated that this fine is more like a slap on the wrist for what is one of the worlds most financially established companies. Alphabet, Google’s parent company made a profit of $30.7 billion on revenue of $136.8 bn, which means that this fine will barely make a dent in their finances.

“The F.T.C. let Google off the hook with a drop-in-the-bucket fine and a set of new requirements that fall well short of what is needed to turn YouTube into a safe and healthy place for kids…Not a single Google executive or investor will bat an eye.”

“We are very disappointed that the Commission failed to penalize Google sufficiently for its ongoing violations of COPPA and failed to hold Google executives personally responsible for the roles they played,” the Center for Digital Democracy’s executive director Jeff Chester said. “A paltry financial penalty . . . sends a signal that if you are a politically powerful corporation, you do not have to fear any serious financial consequences when you break the law.”

Others are complaining that such a small fine could be essentially rewarding Google for breaking the law, “A small amount like this would effectively reward Google for engaging in massive and illegal data collection without any regard to children’s safety,” Katharina Kopp, the deputy director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said in a statement.

While the settlement doesn’t allow YouTube or Google to use or share the data, they have obtained to date, Rhodit Chopra, a Democratic commissioner finds that not holding anyone accountable for the illegal mining of children’s data is unacceptable.

“No individual accountability, insufficient remedies to address the company’s financial incentives and a fine that still allows the company to profit from its lawbreaking,” Mr. Chopra wrote in his dissent. “The terms of the settlement were not even significant enough to make Google issue a warning to its investors.”

Steps to Safeguard your Children Youtube has Taken

About a month ago, YouTube formally announced its plan to have all of its video creators label videos that might appeal to children. As of January 2020, if creators make a video that is directed at children and marked, all data collection will be blocked. This will also result in lower revenue as well as the fact that those videos will lose some of the platform’s popular features which include comments, click-through info cards, notification functions, the community tab, and end screens.

This has left video creators confused and not sure whether their content is for children, or not, but one thing is for sure, the responsibility is on the content creators themselves.

In a video clearing up the amendments to creators, YouTube openly failed to tell channel owners when to label a video. “Ultimately, we can’t provide legal advice,” it said. “We’re unable to confirm whether or not your content is Made for Kids. That decision is up to you taking into consideration these factors.” YouTube goes on to request creators to refer with a lawyer should they need assistance determining if their content appeals to younger audiences.

This isn’t something that is just happening on YouTube. A lot of people might claim that the internet was built on anonymity and paved the way for free speech all over the world. However, after many years, it is undebatable that your computer is definitely spying on you, and privacy on the internet is a luxury that many people do not have.

In addition to government agencies, internet service providers, big companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft have collected your data in order to serve you targeted ads and raise revenues.

So, what can you do to increase privacy for both yourself and your children on the internet? There are a number of steps that you can take to minimize data collection from these big names.

Stay Safe While Surfing the Web

Check out how much of your personal information your browser is storing. In the settings menu, you have the ability to stop your browser from remembering passwords that you’ve used to access various online profiles and websites. While this can be a pain, you should always use a different password for each profile and service you use. The easiest solution to have strong passwords that are unique to all your services is to use a password manager.

Another thing that not many people know is that browsers will store your browsing history, what you’ve downloaded, your images as well as cookie files. Make sure to clear your cache every once in a while and don’t allow all of that information to pile up.

A lot of browsers will also allow you to use anonymous surfing modes. This can be found in Chrome, Safari, Firefox as well as Microsoft Edge just to name a couple. When you enable private browsing mode in your browser, it will prevent it from recording information on the pages you visited, including passwords, downloads, cookies and cached content such as images.

You might even consider using a different search engine than popular ones like Google and Bing, which collect your information regularly. Instead, one search tool that will not track or sell your information is DuckDuckGo.

Invest in a VPN

One of the best ways to stay safe online is to purchase a VPN subscription. A Virtual Private Network works in a way that masks your IP address, making you virtually untraceable to your ISP, government enforcement agencies as well as third party hackers. While VPN services are everywhere, there is a challenge in choosing the right one for your needs.

Some people might even be tempted to try out a free VPN. However, as virtually nothing in this world is free, neither is your “free” VPN. Most of them collect your online data selling it to third parties, serving you with aggressive advertising. Other downsides include a low level of security, slow connection speeds and selling your bandwidth.

When choosing the best VPN for you, there are some key elements that need to be considered including security and encryption protocols, data logging policies, speed, jurisdiction, server amounts and locations, streaming capabilities, the number of simultaneous connections available, as well as the level of customer service on offer.

Use a Firewall

If your desktop or laptop is connected directly to your modem, it might be a good time to change that. Hackers are constantly attempting to bombard IP addresses in order to see if they can get into someone’s operating system. Using a router will allow you to protect yourself from hackers attempting to get their hands on your data.

Stay Sensible on Social Media

It’s no surprise by now that Facebook collects information on you in order to serve you up some targeted ads. The Cambridge Analytica scandal that rocked the world in 2018, where the personal data of millions of Facebook users was used without their consent for political advertising purposes is not the only time Facebook was in the spotlight for illegal data collecting.

According to an article from Forbes which came out just last month,

“Facebook said that roughly 100 developers may have improperly accessed user data, which includes the names and profile pictures of individuals in certain Facebook Groups.

The company explained in a blog post that developers primarily of social media management and video-streaming apps retained the ability to access Facebook Group member information longer than the company intended.

The company did not detail the type of data that was improperly accessed beyond names and photos, and it did not disclose the number of users affected by the leak.”

There are a number of things you can do to regain some of your Facebook anonymity. The first is to head into Settings and complete a Privacy Check-up. There you will be able to see Timeline and Tagging, which will enable you to see whether you have been tagged in either images or posts without your permission. You can also go to your General Account Setting and double-check the email, as well as phone numbers present which you can minimize to make you as anonymous as possible.

Obviously posting as little personal information and not tagging yourself in places also goes a long way.

Use an Anonymous Email

Another idea to protect your privacy online is to use an encrypted email service that ensures all your sensitive data remains your own. Encrypting your connection will prevent unauthorized users on your network from intercepting and stealing your login or password information.

“Email encryption relies on a Public Key Infrastructure or PKI, in most cases, a combination of a private key (known only by you) and a public key (known only to those you choose to distribute it to or even made publicly available). Those sending emails that they want to encrypt would use the public key, while the intended recipient would use the private key to decrypt those messages into a readable format. In the PKI model, anyone can use a public key to encrypt email, but each encrypted message can only be decrypted by a unique private key.”


Keeping your children safe online is a huge challenge today, and with the biggest video platform on the internet, YouTube, getting a hefty fine for inadequately protecting children’s privacy, there is an imminent need for parents to look after their children’s online security.

Illegally recording identification codes which were used to gather and track children’s YouTube data and making huge financial gains in the process, made the $140 million fine seem inadequate when compared to their revenues.

Amongst the changes that are taking place with YouTube in the following month, there are other ways that can protect you and your family’s privacy online, making for a more child-friendly internet environment. By checking your browser security settings, using a privacy-focused search engine and by investing in a VPN, you can make sure that your family is as secure as possible.

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