YouTube should be required to implement new privacy safeguards for children, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) says in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission.
“Personal information about a child can be leveraged to hook consumers for years to come,” Markey writes. “It is incumbent upon the FTC to enforce federal law and act as a check against the ever increasing appetite for children's data.”
His letter comes in response to reports that the FTC is investigating whether Google's YouTube violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting personal data from children.
That law requires website operators to obtain parental consent before knowingly collecting a host of information from children younger than 13 -- including geolocation data, mobile telephone numbers, and persistent identifiers.
Last April, a coalition of advocacy groups -- including the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Electronic Privacy Information Center and Public Citizen -- alleged in an FTC complaint that YouTube violates the children's privacy law by logging a host of data from young video viewers.
The terms of service for YouTube.com say the site isn't intended for children younger than 13. Instead, Google offers a child-focused video site, YouTube Kids, that doesn't allow behaviorally targeted ads.
But advocates say YouTube.com hosts many videos that are obviously aimed at young children.
Markey repeats that claim in his letter to the FTC.
“For example, Ryan ToysReview, which has over 19 million subscriptions, explicitly characterizes itself as 'Toy reviews for kids by a kid,'” he writes. “YouTube content like this appears to directly conflict with YouTube's claims that the website is not intended for children.”
He is asking the FTC to require Google to stop collecting data from children under 13, and to delete any data already collected from them.
Markey also says Google should implement a host of new policies. Among others, he says YouTube Kids should prohibit targeted marketing and influencer marketing.
The advocacy groups Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Digital Democracy are also asking the FTC to crack down on YouTube.
The watchdogs are asking the FTC to order Google to remove all videos for children from YouTube.com, and place the material on a separate platform where targeted advertising would be prohibited.
“By ensuring such changes, the Commission will do a tremendous service to America’s families seeking to provide a healthy media environment for their children, while sending a clear message to all online and mobile operators that no one is above the law,” the groups write.