Youtube accused of collecting children's data in the UK

YouTube has been accused of violating a UK data privacy code designed to protect children by collecting the viewing data of children under the age of 13. Duncan McCann has filed an official complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO).

According to him, the website collects information about the videos children watch, where they watch them, and on what device. YouTube stated that it had invested in family protection. This included treating all children's content as if it were being viewed by a child, even on an adult's account, the document stated.

A spokesperson stated that they remained dedicated to maintaining their engagement with the ICO and other key stakeholders that include parents, children and child-protection experts on the priority work. The platform is owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google in the United States.

The company has always stated that its service is not intended for children under the age of 13, and it offers a YouTube Kids app and a "supervised experience" that requires parental consent.

According to Mr. McCann, a large number of children watch YouTube content on family devices, where this information can be collected by default because it is not a children's account. It is believed that his complaint is the first test of the ICO children's code, which was introduced in 2020 and gave tech companies one year to comply. Its terms include providing children with a high level of privacy by default and avoiding the use of design elements that encourage them to provide more information. 

YouTube stated at the time that it would disable auto-play by default for videos and block targeted and personalized advertisements for all children. In 2021, according to sources, the majority of children aged three to seventeen in the United Kingdom used the video platform. 

Similar to the penalties for violating data protection laws, companies found to be in violation of the children's internet code face hefty fines. The ICO stated that it would carefully consider the complaint. Mr. McCann is acting in a personal capacity, but he is employed by 5Rights Foundation, a lobbying organization that has championed the code.

The ideal scenario would entail unnecessary information not being processed through effective means by Youtube, allowing them only to collect data from adults on securing proper consent. Adults must be able to opt in to tracking, recommendation systems, profiling, and targeted advertisements in order to ensure that they only collect data from adults with proper consent.

He added that he believed only "a small fraction" of users would opt to do so. A US regulator fined YouTube $170m (£139m) in 2019 for violating children's privacy laws. This followed a similar allegation that the organization collected data on children under 13 without parental consent.

According to Stephanie Hare, author of Technology is Not Neutral, YouTube did not admit fault, but it did pay the fine and alter its business practices as a result.

It was assumed that anyone viewing children's content was younger than 13 years old. As a result, it collects significantly less data on this type of content and no longer sends personalized ads to those who view it. She mentioned that the solution exists and that they simply have to retrieve it from the toolbox.