The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will fine Google $136 million to settle allegations that it violated child privacy laws.
The FTC, voted 3-2, by party lines, to fine Google-owned video platform YouTube $136 million, and Google will pay $34 million to New York state to resolve similar allegations that it collected children’s personal information without their parents’ consent.
The FTC’s fine serves as the largest settlement against Google, although it pails in comparison to the $5 billion fine it levied against Facebook for its privacy violations this summer.
The consumer protection agency started investigating Google into whether YouTube, a Google subsidiary, violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Young children are protected by COPPA, which requires parental consent before companies such as Google collect and share their personal information.
“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.”
The FTC Chairman and the other two Republican commissioners voted to approve the settlement, while the Democrats opposed the measure.
FTC Democrat Commissioner Rohit Chopra noted that it was the third time since 2011 that the FTC sanctioned Google for privacy violations, calling the latest violation “extremely serious.”
Chopra contended that Google’s collection of children’s private data was “extremely lucrative” for the search giant. Similar to the agency’s fine with Facebook, Google settlement has “no individual accountability, insufficient remedies to address the company’s financial incentives, and a fine that still allows the company to profit from its lawbreaking.”
Technology experts have also decried the fine. The Center for Digital Democracy called the fine “woefully low,” calling Google’s privacy violation “egregious.”
Center for Digital Democracy deputy director Katharina Kopa said in a statement, “A small amount like this would effectively reward Google for engaging in massive and illegal data collection without any regard to children’s safety.”
The FTC’s settlement fine serves as a small fraction of Google’s total revenue. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, made a profit of $30.7 billion based on revenue of $136.8 billion in 2018.
Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said that perhaps even more important than the fine is the terms the FTC might impose on Google regarding its collection of children’s information.
Along with the monetary penalty, the FTC will require that Google and YouTube to develop, implement, and maintain a system that permits channel owners to identify their child-directed content on YouTube so that the video platform can comply with COPPA.
The consumer protection agency also said that YouTube must prevent Google from violating the COPPA rule and requires them to provide notice about their data collection practices and obtain parental consent before collecting information about their children.