YouTube has been accused of violating UK data privacy regulations designed to protect children by collecting viewing data from those under the age of 13. Campaigner Duncan McCann has made an official complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), stating that the video-sharing site is gathering information about what children watch, where they watch it, and the devices they use. Although YouTube claims to have made significant investments in safeguarding families, McCann believes that the company is still failing to comply with the regulations.
“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”, a spokesperson for YouTube said. The platform is owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google and has always maintained that its service is not intended for use by children under the age of 13. In addition to a separate app for children called YouTube Kids, it also provides a “supervised experience” that requires parental consent.
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Mr McCann’s complaint is the first test of the ICO children’s code, which was introduced in 2020. The code stipulates that tech companies must offer a high level of privacy to children by default and not use design features that encourage them to provide more data. YouTube had previously announced that it would turn off default auto-play on videos, and block ad targeting and personalization for all children. However, McCann argues that many children watch YouTube content on family devices, where data can be gathered by default because it is not registered as a children’s account.
YouTube’s potential violation of the children’s internet code could result in large fines if found guilty, similar to the penalties for breaching data protection laws. According to regulator Ofcom, 89% of children in the UK between the ages of three and 17 used the platform in 2021. McCann, who works for the campaign group 5Rights Foundation, believes that YouTube should implement a sign-in process for adults who wish to use tracking, recommendation systems, profiling and targeted ads.