FTC Investigation Into YouTube's Treatment of Children Revealed

An FTC investigation into YouTube's relationship with children is in the "final stages," according to sources close to the matter who spoke with the Washington Post. The investigation is reportedly looking into not only how YouTube collects and monetized data on minors without parental consent, but also how the algorithm keeps kids hooked. The investigation may result in a penalty and a fine.

Under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), websites technically aren't allowed to cater to or collect data on children under the age of 13. However, a quick look through YouTube makes it clear that there is a plethora of content on the site - including toy unboxing videos, nursery rhymes, and cartoons, among others - that is targeting young children. Consumer advocates have been pushing the government to hold YouTube accountable for this content and it looks like they may finally be successful.

"YouTube's business model puts profits first, and kids' well-being last," David Monahan of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a Boston-based advocacy group, told the Post. "When we filed a COPPA complaint with the FTC a year ago, Google's response was ridiculous - that YouTube is not a site for kids, when it's actually the most popular children's site on the Internet. We hope the FTC will act soon, and require YouTube to move all kids' content to YouTube Kids with no marketing, no autoplay or recommendations, and strong protections for children's privacy."

The Post also reports that internally at YouTube, there have been increased talks about how the company handles children's videos. According to an inside source, there's discussion within the company about changing the algorithm for all users, including children. There's even been talk of moving the child-focused content to its own platform. However, considering the cost of migrating that much content, it's unlikely.

The FTC investigation is also being lauded by U.S. Senator Ed Markey, who is pushing for comprehensive privacy legislation.

"An FTC investigation into YouTube's treatment of children online is long overdue," Markey said in a statement to Gizmodo. "It is no secret that kids flock to YouTube every day, but the company has yet to take the necessary steps to protect its youngest users. I am pleased to see reports that the FTC is working to hold YouTube accountable for its actions.

"But we must do much more to ensure that our children are protected from online dangers known and unknown. In the coming weeks, I will introduce legislation that will combat online design features that coerce children and create bad habits, commercialization, and marketing that manipulate kids and push them into consumer culture, and the amplification of inappropriate and harmful content on the internet. It's time for the adults in the room to step in and ensure that corporate profits no longer come before kids' privacy."

But is government regulation of these tech behemoths too little, too late? They all were able to become what they are today, after all, largely because of a lack of government regulation - and the government has been incredibly slow to respond. We'll just have to wait and see.

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