YouTube Is Under Investigation For Allegedly Violating Kids’ Privacy, Faces Potential Fines

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Federal officials are in the latter stages of an investigation into YouTube’s management of content catering to children, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing anonymous sources.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched the probe after complaints from consumer groups, the report noted, citing four people who requested anonymity. The complaints claim YouTube fails to protect children who used the video streaming service. They also argue that the Google-run company improperly collected children’s data.

“We consider lots of ideas for improving YouTube and some remain just that — ideas,” YouTube spokeswoman Andrea Faville said in a statement to WaPo. “Others, we develop and launch, like our restrictions to minors live-streaming or updated hate speech policy.” She did not directly comment on the nature of the FTC probe.

The FTC declined to comment to The Daily Caller News Foundation for this article. (RELATED: YouTube Will Now Ding Content From White Supremacists As It Targets Hate Speech)

Facebook, Google and Twitter logos are seen in this combination photo from Reuters files. REUTERS//File Photo

The probe comes after The New York Times noted in a June 3 report that YouTube’s algorithm was effectively directing content of children in bathing suits to users who watched other videos of prepubescent kids. The algorithm referred users to the videos after they watched sexually themed content.

YouTube ultimately nixed several of the videos but left up others. The issue was probably a result of some tweaks to its algorithm, the company told a NYT reporter at the time. YouTube is not doing enough to solve the problem, researchers argue.

Researchers say the company should turn off its recommendation system on videos of children. Company officials said that dramatically altering the recommendation algorithm would effectively hurt its business model and affect users who earn money off the platform.

YouTube was mired in a similar problem in May, when The Daily Caller reported that the comments sections on videos with minors in them were being used to exploit children. The company said it was taking measures to eliminate comments from videos featuring minors, yet the effort will take months, according to report.

The FTC’s investigation is based on multiple complaints it received dating back to 2015, arguing that YouTube violated federal laws, WaPo’s report Wednesday noted, citing people familiar with the probe. A possible settlement and a fine could be forthcoming, depending on the FTC’s conclusion.

The agency fined an app called TikTok $5.7 million in February for breaking federal kids privacy laws.

“Google has been violating federal child privacy laws for years,” Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, one of the groups complaining about YouTube, told WaPo.

The controversy is bothering people inside Google, media reports show, causing some employees to question whether the company should attach itself to YouTube.

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