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  • Google and YouTube have agreed to reforms and a $170 million fine for spying on children online. (Photo: The Pancake of Heaven!)

    Google and YouTube repeatedly violated a federal law that protects children from being tracked online and will pay $170 million in a nationwide settlement. New York State’s cut is $34 million, according to state Attorney General Letitia James.

    New York Attorney General Letitia James

    New York Attorney General Letitia James. (Photo: Matthew Cohen)

    “Google and YouTube knowingly and illegally monitored, tracked, and served targeted ads to young children just to keep advertising dollars rolling in,” said James in a statement.

    “These companies put children at risk and abused their power, which is why we are imposing major reforms to their practices and making them pay one of the largest settlements for a privacy matter in U.S. history,” she added.

    The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), enacted in 2000, specifically bans tracking and serving targeted advertisements to users watching videos directed at children under the age of 13.

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    The law was amended in 2013 and expanded to cover “persistent identifiers” that can be used to recognize a user over time and across websites, such as the ID found in a web browser “cookie” or an Internet Protocol (IP) address.

    The revision effectively prohibits covered operators from using cookies, IP addresses, and other persistent identifiers to track users across websites for most advertising purposes, to amass profiles on individual users, or to serve online behavioral advertisements on COPPA-covered websites, according to the NY AG.

    The powerful search engine, and YouTube, which it owns, collected personal information, such as first and last names and other data of children under the age of 13 without first obtaining parental consent as the law requires.

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    Google openly promotes YouTube as the “favorite website for kids 2-12” and the “No 1 website regularly visited by kids.”

    Google monetizes the channels by serving advertisements and tailored ads based on the data it collected about children.

    The investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office found that both Google and YouTube knowingly and illegally tracked and served targeted advertisements to children under the age of 13 on YouTube in violation of COPPA, according to James.

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    The two companies have agreed to pay $170 million — the largest-ever settlement in a COPPA enforcement matter and one of the largest settlements in a privacy matter in U.S. history. But the fine is literally a drop in the bucket to the giant Web companies.

    Google’s holding company Alphabet pulled reported Q4 2018 revenues of $39.2 billion, up 22 percent year-over-year. Net income totaled $8.9 billion.

    The company has been under fire for some time over the vast amount of consumer data it collects and some embarrassing data breaches, according to engadget.

    Beyond monetary damages, the companies have agreed to major reforms, including:

    • Developing, implementing, and maintaining a system for users to designate whether the video content they have uploaded is directed to children;
    • Notifying users that content directed towards children on YouTube may be subject to the COPPA Rule, and that users who have uploaded such content are obligated to designate it as
    • Providing annual COPPA compliance training to employees responsible for managing relationships with users that upload content to YouTube; and
    • And, obtaining verifiable parental consent before any collection, use, and/or disclosure of personal information from children.
    • Google and YouTube have also agreed that personal information previously collected from children can no longer be used.

    The investigation was handled by Bureau of Internet and Technology Senior Enforcement Counsel Jordan Adler and Deputy Bureau Chief Clark Russell, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Kim Berger.

    The Bureau of Internet and Technology is overseen by Chief Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Christopher D’Angelo.