New York leads the way

Attorneys general in 49 states may want to take a look at a big payout from the Google YouTube online service.

Google has been fined $136 million by the Federal Trade Commission over allegations it harvested personal data about children without seeking their parents’ consent. In addition, Google has agreed to pay $34 million to the state of New York over similar allegations.

Federal law requires that online services such as YouTube are prohibited from collecting the personal information of children under 13 without obtaining permission from their parents. One wonders why members of Congress decided children over 13 did not need similar safeguards, given the fact youngsters remain vulnerable far after reaching that age.

Collecting and selling personal information is a key profit center for many online companies. Knowing what websites people visit, what they buy online, where they live — and how old they are — gives marketers an edge. They are willing to pay well for it.

YouTube apparently erred in some of its own marketing, according to FTC Chairman Joe Simmons. In a statement, he said the service “touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients.” But, when federal regulators came knocking, “the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids.”

Before the FTC can collect its $136 million, the fine needs to be approved by a federal court, according to The Associated Press. It may be that the settlement with New York’s attorney general will be subjected to a similar review.

But if it holds up, the settlement ought to be looked at by attorneys general in the other 49 states. The New York claim, after all, involved an allegation YouTube violated federal law on children’s privacy. If it did so in the Empire State, there is no reason to believe it did not do the same thing elsewhere.

By Patricia Older

Leave a Reply