A new report by advertising analytics company Adalytics is sparking calls for an investigation into YouTube's privacy practices.
The report, released Thursday and promptly characterized by Google as “flawed,” largely deals with potential tracking of users who watch YouTube videos aimed at children.
Adalytics makes numerous claims in the 200-plus page report, including that Google sets cookies on the devices of viewers who watch those videos.
Adalytics specifically writes that Google “has been observed to appear to” set “long-lasting 'advertising' related cookies on the browsers of consumers watching YouTube videos that are clearly labeled as 'for kids.'”
Cookies can be used to track web users and serve them with personalized ads -- which could potentially violate the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). That law effectively prohibits businesses from knowingly deploying behavioral advertising techniques on children younger than 13, without parental consent.
But cookies can also be used for analytics, fraud prevention and other advertising-related activity that doesn't violate the law.
Some Google critics, including Fairplay (formerly Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood) on Thursday called for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the company is following the law, or complying with its obligations under a prior settlement.
In 2019, Google agreed to pay $170 million to settle FTC charges that YouTube collected data from children younger than 13; that settlement also required the company to develop a system aimed at ensuring adherence to the children's privacy law.
Senators Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) also said the Adalytics report warranted a new FTC investigation.
For its part, Google unequivocally denies using cookies for any purpose prohibited by the federal children's privacy law.
“Today’s new Adalytics 'report' makes completely false claims and draws uninformed conclusions based solely on the presence of cookies, which are widely used in these contexts for the purposes of fraud detection and frequency capping -- both of which are permitted under COPPA,” Google managing director Brian Albert wrote Thursday on LinkedIn.
Dan Taylor, vice president for global ads at Google, posted on X (formerly Twitter) that Adalytics' study was “flawed,” and its research “faulty.”
He specifically noted that the presence of cookies doesn't mean the company is personalizing ads.
“Cookies are permitted under COPPA for statistical reporting, for spam and fraud detection and for frequency capping. They are critical to YouTube creators’ monetization which encourages a rich diversity of content on YouTube,” Taylor wrote.
Last month Adalytics said in a separate report that Google frequently violated its standards for placing video ads on outside publishers' sites. Google also disputes that report.