Did YouTube cross the creepy line?

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Did YouTube cross the creepy line?

Jul 25, 2019

Our tenth minisode of “The Creative Influencer” podcast is available for download on iTunes, Spotify, and premier platforms everywhere.  In minisodes, we answer questions that our listeners have emailed Jon.  In this minisode, Jon discusses advertising targeted at children on YouTube, how the FTC may force the platform to remove all ads from children’s content, and what parents can do now to protect their child’s privacy.


A transcript of the episode follows:

This is minisode 10. Today’s e-mail comes from Wendy.

Subject: Did YouTube cross the creepy line?

Dear Jon,

I am the mother of two little girls ages 7 and 9. They love YouTube. There are certain videos that they’ll watch over and over and over. They especially like the unboxing videos of toys and dolls.

I saw a headline recently about Google tracking children’s activity on YouTube. It seems creepy to me that some company might know what my girls are watching.

Do you know anything about this?


Wendy, with so many of these types of privacy issues, it’s a case of okay news. Not great news. Not terrible news. Just okay news.

By way of background, last year a coalition of over 20 child advocacy and privacy groups filed a complaint with the FTC alleging that YouTube collected data on children younger than 13 years old. Why is that a problem other than the fact that collecting data on children is creepy? If it’s true it would violate COPPA which is short for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

COPPA says that companies cannot collect data on children younger than 13.

Let’s take a step back look at the other part of the equation which is YouTube’s terms of service. The Terms of Service say that you shouldn’t use the Service if you’re under 13. Here, “service” means YouTube. Never mind the fact that one of the highest paid YouTuber is 8 years old. The terms of service also say that you have to be 18 or have your parent’s permission to have a YouTube account. Here’s why it matters.

Wendy, I ask you as the mother of a 9-year old whether your daughter is going to read the terms of service to find out she shouldn’t be watching YouTube. The only reason I read the terms of service is that it’s my job.

So, let’s see how this works. When you’re on YouTube – whether you’re signed in as a user or not – Google tracks and stores information about the person watching the video. This is through a combination of cookies, app analytics and IP address tracking. They know what your daughter is searching and watching. That’s if she’s not signed in. If she is signed in, YouTube knows what ads she skipped, what ads she watched as well as every video she watched. They do this so then can charge advertisers more for ads targeted to a particular demographic.

Back to our initial problem. COPPA says that companies cannot collect data on users under 13. YouTube deflects this by saying children under 13 should be using the kid’s app.

The reason you are probably seeing this in the news is because Google just reached a settlement with the FTC on this exact issue, the details of which are not disclosed.

In addition, the FTC, in response to the complaints filed last year, is floating the prospect of removing and disallowing allads from content geared toward children. To say that this would have a big impact on monetization for YouTubers is an understatement.

What’s the solution today? You, as a parent, should be proactive.

Your daughters should only use the kid’s app and you should delete the “real” YouTube app from their phone or tablet.

Also, you should take time to set up the parental controls on the kids app. It’s going to take some time. I know because I just set one up to answer your question. But it’s going to be worth it because it’s going to protect your daughters’ privacy.

As with anything related to the Internet and to paraphrase on old cop show, “let’s be safe out there.”

The Creative Influencer is a podcast about Instagram, YouTube and all things social media.

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