Google and its subsidiary YouTube were hit with $170 million dollar fine by the Federal Trade Commission for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protect Act, marking the largest-ever civil penalty obtained by the commission under the children’s privacy law.
The monopolistic tech giant illegally collected user information from children and tracked their viewing histories to boost its revenue by targeting minors with advertising, the FTC and New York’s attorney general alleged Tuesday in its announcement of the settlement.
YouTube also illegally used children’s identification to monitor their web browsing over time, without parental consent, regulators charged.
The majority of the $170 million penalty will be allocated – $136 million going to the trade commission while $34 million will be disbursed to New York State, to settle the charges.
In addition to the fine, YouTube agreed to modify its platform to protect children’s privacy by developing a system that requires video channel owners to identify the children’s content they post, and to prevent targeted ads from being featured in the videos.
The tech company is also required to obtain parental consent when it collects or shares personal details including a child’s name, location or photographs, regulators stipulated.
In February, YouTube came under fire amid complaints the video sharing platform failed to prevent pedophiles from leaving lewd comments on videos intended for children 13 and younger.
A video published on YouTube titled, “YouTube is Facilitating the Sexual Exploitation of Children, and it’s Being Monetized,” documents pedophiles utilizing the comments on videos, featuring children doing yoga, doing gymnastics, playing Twister and eating popsicles, to guide other predators. In addition to making sexual statements, the predatory commenters posted time stamps linking to instances in videos that appeared suggestive when paused, like a little girl’s bare legs or backside.
YouTube responded to the backlash by disabling comments on most videos featuring young children and said it would use a new machine-learning system to identify and remove predators’ comments.
Yet, in June an investigation published by the New York Times documented how YouTube’s recommendation system promoted videos of partially clothed, prepubescent children to users who had watched other videos of young children in suggestive positions.
“Users do not need to look for videos of children to end up watching them. The platform can lead them there through a progression of recommendations,” NYT reported. “So a user who watches erotic videos might be recommended videos of women who become conspicuously younger, and then women who pose provocatively in children’s clothes. Eventually, some users might be presented with videos of girls as young as 5 or 6 wearing bathing suits, or getting dressed or doing a split.”
The FTC’s punitive actions against YouTube marks what may be the beginning of the Trump administration’s pursuit to reign in Big Tech’s power. Amid backlash from conservatives who have been verifiably discriminated by Google, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, President Trump is reportedly drafting an executive order authorizing the FTC to oversee how tech companies censor “harmful” content.
According to CNN, the order would limit the immunity tech companies receive “if they remove or suppress content without notifying the user who posted the material, or if the decision is proven to be evidence of anticompetitive, unfair or deceptive practices.”
The FTC would then be required to open a “public complaint docket” to monitor allegations of anti-conservative bias from the public and “work with the [Federal Communications Commission] to develop a report investigating how tech companies curate their platforms and whether they do so in neutral ways,” CNN reported.
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