YouTube, Hasbro, Mattel And Others Sued Over Children's Privacy

Video platform YouTube and a host of channel operators -- including Hasbro, the Cartoon Network, Mattel, and DreamWorks -- have been hit with a new lawsuit for allegedly tracking young children in order to serve them with targeted ads.

In a class-action complaint filed late last week, California resident Nichole Hubbard alleges that her child, identified only as “C.H.,” watched YouTube channels aimed at children -- including Ryan ToysReview, Hasbro's “My Little Pony Office,” and CookieSwirlC.

Google and the channel operators allegedly “collected C.H.’s personal information for the purposes of tracking, profiling, and targeting C.H. with advertisements,” Hubbard alleges in a complaint brought in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

She adds that the companies “actively and fraudulently concealed their unlawful acts,” and misled parents.

“Defendants’ illegal collection of children’s personal information has given them a significant 'first mover' advantage that cannot be undone,” the lawsuit alleges.

Google's algorithms “now incorporate ill-gotten data from billions of children’s YouTube video views,” the complaint states. “The deep insights gleaned from these viewing sessions will enable [Google] to keep children viewing the YouTube platform.”

Other companies named as defendants include ChuChu TV Studios, Cookswirl and Pocketwatch.

The new lawsuit comes almost two months after Google agreed to pay $170 million to settle allegations by the Federal Trade Commission and New York Attorney General that YouTube violated children's privacy laws by collecting data from children younger than 13.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act prohibits companies from knowingly collecting personal information -- including web-browsing data that is used to target ads -- from children under 13, without their parents' permission.

The FTC alleged in its recent complaint that YouTube hosts “numerous channels” directed to children. The agency added that Google promoted YouTube to Mattel, Hasbro and others as a “top destination” for kids.

Several years ago, New York state prosecuted Mattel, Hasbro and two other companies for allegedly allowing young website visitors to be tracked by third parties for ad-targeting purposes. 

Hubbard's claims include “intrusion upon seclusion” -- a broad privacy concept that involves “highly offensive” conduct -- and violations of California's unfair competition law.

Earlier this year, a federal judge in South Carolina dismissed a separate lawsuit against Google that included similar allegations. In that case, U.S. District Court Judge Bruce Hendricks in Charleston ruled that the allegations, even if true, wouldn't support the finding that Google was liable for “intrusion upon seclusion.”

He said in a written ruling that online tracking wasn't the kind of offensive activity that would constitute an intrusion upon seclusion.

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