YouTube has been accused of violating a UK data privacy code aimed at safeguarding children

Youtube has been accused of breaching a safe mode for children under 13. See how this event unfolded.


YouTube has been accused of breaching a UK data privacy code designed to protect children by collecting the viewing data of children under 13. Campaigner Duncan McCann has lodged an official complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), claiming that the platform is gathering data about the videos children watch, where they are watching, and what device they are watching it on. YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet, has always said that its service was not intended for use by children below the age of 13, but McCann argues that many children watch YouTube content on family devices, where data can be gathered by default. The complaint is believed to be the first test of the ICO children’s code, which was introduced in 2020. Firms found to be in breach of the code can face large fines. In 2019, YouTube was fined $170m by a US regulator for violating children’s privacy laws.

There are several laws and regulations that apply to YouTube and its content for children, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. One of the most significant is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US. COPPA requires website operators to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children under the age of 13.

The children’s internet code introduced in 2020 requires firms to provide a high level of privacy for children by default and avoid using design features that encourage them to provide more data. YouTube has since turned off default auto-play on videos and blocked ad targeting and personalisation for all children. However, campaigner Duncan McCann has complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that the site is still gathering data about the videos children watch, where they are watching, and what device they are using. The regulator Ofcom reports that 89% of children between three and 17 in the UK used the video platform in 2021. Breaches of the children’s internet code can lead to large fines, and YouTube was fined $170m in 2019 for violating children’s privacy laws. McCann is acting in a personal capacity, but he works for the campaign group 5Rights Foundation, which has championed the code. Stephanie Hare, author of “Technology is Not Neutral,” suggests that YouTube should collect far less data on children’s content and avoid sending personalised ads to those who watch it.

What is the Children’s internet code:

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has implemented the Age Appropriate Design Code, which aims to create a safer internet for children by regulating the use and sharing of their personal data by digital businesses. The code requires companies to design services that are age appropriate and in the best interests of children, and to provide a high level of privacy by default. They must also consider whether their use of data keeps children safe from commercial and sexual exploitation, stop using design features that encourage the provision of more data, and switch off geo-location services that track their location. Firms that breach the code may face fines of up to 4% of global turnover. TikTok and YouTube are among the platforms that have made changes in response to the code. However, some groups, including the Coalition for a Digital Economy, have criticised the code for being too vague in places.

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