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YouTube child data gathering faces UK scrutiny after complaint

Alphabet Inc’s YouTube will find itself under the British information regulator’s spotlight following an accusation of illegally collecting data from millions of children.

In a complaint, father-of-three Duncan McCann said the video-streaming platform had violated the newly implemented law by gathering “the location, viewing habits, and preferences” of up to 5 million children. In his campaign, McCann is supported by his employer the advocacy group 5Rights.

Finding the middle ground between protecting social media users, in particular minors, from harmful content and safeguarding free speech has been a tough nut to crack for countries worldwide.

McCann said that YouTube should redesign its platform and delete the data it had been gathering.

It is a massive, unlicensed, social experiment on our children with uncertain consequences,” McCann said.

YouTube’s spokesperson claimed the platform had undertaken measures to bolster child privacy with additional protective default settings, and invested in protecting children and families by launching a dedicated kids app as well as introducing new data praxes.

“We remain committed to continuing our engagement with the ICO on this priority work, and with other key stakeholders including children, parents, and child protection experts,” the YouTube spokesperson said in a statement.

YouTube services children users via its YouTube Kids app. In its YouTube Kids Privacy Notice, the company claims that “YouTube Kids doesn’t collect personal information like name, address, or contact information from your child.”

It does however admit that the app allows parents to view their children’s activity using the app, including “the videos your child watches, their search terms, and other interactions with content and ads in the app.”

Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it would consider the complaint carefully.

The Children’s code makes clear that children are not like adults online, and their data needs meaningful protections,” the ICO’s Deputy Commissioner, Regulatory Supervision, Stephen Bonner said in a statement.

Designers are obliged by Britain’s Children’s code to meet 15 design and privacy standards to protect children, including limiting the collection of their location and other personal data.

In 2019, YouTube was fined USD 170 million by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to settle allegations that it broke federal law by collecting personal information about children.

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