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FTC finds YouTube in violation of child privacy norms, fines $200 million

The case could have significant repercussions for other popular platforms used by young children in the United States

Natasha Singer Jack Nicas & Kate Conger | NYT 


The Federal Trade Commission has voted to fine Google $150 million to $200 million to settle accusations that its subsidiary illegally collected personal information about children, according to three people briefed on the matter.

The case could have significant repercussions for other popular platforms used by young children in the United States.

The settlement would be the largest civil penalty ever obtained by the FTC in a children’s privacy case. It dwarfs the previous record fine of $5.7 million for children’s privacy violations the agency levied this year against the owners of TikTok, a social video-sharing app.

Politico first reported the amount of the settlement, which would have to be approved by the Justice Department. The news of the FTC’s settlement with Google comes at a moment when regulators and lawmakers in Washington and the European Union are challenging the power — and the aggressive data-mining practices — of tech giants like Facebook and Google.

Last month, the FTC announced a $5 billion fine against Facebook for abusing its users’ personal data. Members of Congress this year have also introduced at least dozen privacy and transparency bills to bolster protections for Americans’ social media data, genetic data, facial recognition data and other kinds of information.

The FTC’s agreement with involves a larger fine than in previous children’s privacy settlements, but the case has renewed complaints from consumer advocates that the agency has generally failed to require privacy violators to make substantive change to their data-mining practices.

“Once again, this FTC appears to have let a powerful company off the hook with a nominal fine for violating users’ privacy online,” Senator Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, said in a statement on Friday.

If regulators fail to take a tougher stand to protect children’s privacy, the problematic practices of social media will not change, said Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a nonprofit group. “has reaped huge profits by ignoring federal children’s privacy law and engaging in illegal data collection and targeted marketing,” Golin said.

The FTC, which is expected to announce the settlement in September, declined to comment. YouTube declined to comment.

Google has faced scrutiny before over how it collects and uses people’s data. It is already subject to an FTC consent order from 2011 for deceptive data-mining involving its now-defunct social network Buzz. That order required the internet search company to institute a comprehensive privacy program and prohibited it from misrepresenting its data-handling practices.

In 2012, Google agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle FTC charges that it had violated the consent order by deceiving users of Apple’s Safari browser about its data-mining practices.

© 2019 The New York Times News Service

First Published: Sat, August 31 2019. 23:46 IST