The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has settled a rather concerning matter with Google. The search-giant owned YouTube video-upload and sharing platform was allegedly in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The FTC will reportedly be levying a multi-million dollar fine that Google is expected to pay quickly. In addition to the same, Google is expected to undertake a massive overhaul of the content rules and policies. Moreover, YouTube Kids, the YouTube fork dedicated to children-friendly content could soon get a massive boost in viewership and channels.

Apparently, Google-owned YouTube, the most popular and widely used social video content platform, failed to adequately protect children’s privacy. Google will reportedly have to pay a multimillion-dollar fine to settle an investigation into YouTube’s shortcomings when it comes to protecting kids using its service. The FTC had launched the investigation into the video-sharing platform to verify if it had violated federal data privacy laws set up specifically to protect youngsters or children below the age of 13. Incidentally, the investigation, which began almost four years ago, strongly indicates Google and YouTube to be in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). As a result, Google is expected to settle with the FTC through a multimillion-dollar fine. The exact amount isn’t yet known.

FTC Decides Google Must Pay Fine Because YouTube Mechanisms Are Inadequate For Protection Children

By the time the investigation completed, the FTC was reportedly convinced that Google and YouTube failed to protect children adequately and that they collected their data, which violated the COPPA rules and guidelines. Incidentally, the FTC has long fielded several persistent complaints about Google, and more specifically, about YouTube.

Children’s safety and privacy advocates have long maintained that some of the most popular channels on the streaming site are directed towards children. Interestingly, these channels with massive subscriber count are officially listed or meant for people over the age of 13. However, it is painfully obvious that videos featuring nursery rhymes, cartoons and people opening kids’ toys, eating candies, doing some childish antics, etc. are aimed directly at young children. From a legal perspective, YouTube states children can watch such videos with parental supervision. But in reality, there is no adequate verification or authentication system that confirms children are indeed being supervised while watching videos on YouTube.

20 years later, #COPPA still has a bite.

FTC approves settlement with Google over YouTube kids privacy violations

— Trevor Hughes (@jtrevorhughes) July 21, 2019

In essence, the complaints repeatedly stressed that YouTube had significantly inadequate protection mechanism for children. Moreover, the complainants insisted that YouTube neglected the specifics of COPPA, which primarily concerns itself over the collection and usage of data pertaining to minors under the age of 13. It is believed YouTube may have used the data to tweak the delivery of advertisements. In other words, the video-sharing platform may have delivered targeted advertisements that were based on the information gathered about the kids’ usage behavior, videos consumed, and other site surfing patterns.

Google Could Agree To Pay Fine And Even Make Changes To The Way YouTube and YouTube Kids Works:

Throughout the investigation, Google has voluntarily explored a few ways that could help further protect children while they are using its platforms and services. Some of the changes that can be seen include restricting comments on videos that feature young kids. One of the most prominent methods that could be deployed in the future would be altering the core algorithm that queues up the next video while the children are watching videos on YouTube. Majority of the children watch multiple videos sequentially. Oftentimes, it is the auto-play feature that decides which video will play next. As such, a significant overhaul in the algorithm could ensure that only child-appropriate video loads.

On the other extreme, Google could simply eliminate all the videos that are clearly aimed at children. However, this drastic move would prove highly detrimental to Google. This is because there is a massive amount of such content. Moreover, the majority of the channels that create such content, take a lot of efforts to ensure their videos are safe for children to consume while they are left unsupervised. Incidentally, leaving children unsupervised is certainly not recommended since even toddlers can manipulate a carefully created playlist and may end up viewing content that is inappropriate for their age.

nooo there’s a youtube kids app?! i refuse to use it!

— Super Lucas (@superwayv_xuxi) July 21, 2019

One of the most ideal solutions that Google may implement is moving all the child-friendly content to YouTube Kids, a bifurcation of the primary YouTube platform. Needless to add, the YouTube Kids platform is built specifically for children. It has a highly simplified interface with very few player controls. Moreover, there are additional parental controls like child-lock inbuilt.

On its own behalf, YouTube is yet to offer any information about how and what it intends to do regarding the implementation of additional safeguards for children. Some experts indicate YouTube may not allow advertising on content that is aimed at children. However, YouTube’s primary source of revenue is advertising. Moreover, the platform relies on content creators voluntarily creating and submitting content. Stripped of advertising, none of the parties would have any incentive to create and host professionally created content. This could also degrade the quality of content, thereby further hurting YouTube.

Changes Enacted By Google Could Set A Strong Precedent Thereby Forcing Other Social Media Platforms To Follow

The multimillion-dollar fine may not seem to be a big deal from a financial perspective. However, it is certainly big because it can easily set a precedent. After all, quite a few problems that were discussed throughout the government’s YouTube investigation are quite common across several popular online services and social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat. Even some massive online gaming platforms like Fortnite could fall under the purview of the revision.

The FTC’s fine on Google over YouTube’s inadequate protections and safeguards for children under the age of 13, could force almost all other social media platforms to thoroughly reexamine ways and methods to offer relevant and adequate safeguards to ensure children have adults accompanying them while videos and other content is being consumed. Interestingly, not waiting for stringent rules to be enacted, Google could soon make some fundamental changes to the YouTube platform on its own.

In the era of YouTube, Fortnite, Snapchat, and more grown-up technology beloved by kids, does one of the main federal laws protecting online privacy for kids under 13 need a makeover? #COPPA

— Education Week (@educationweek) July 21, 2019

Internet access, social media, and other online platforms are increasingly being used by children today. According to some studies, kids and teens spend almost 20 hours a month online, and this number is only increasing. As technology and its usage evolves, regulators like FTC have an ever-increasing obligation to keep a strong and stringent watch over the social media platforms to ensure they are serious about protecting children online.

Interestingly, ordinary and concerned citizens have an opportunity to put forth their suggestions to the regulators. The FTC has opened a commenting period on COPPA. The regulator is inviting comments and suggestions on updates to the law to support changing and evolving technology. The rules were last significantly updated way back in 2013. However, the emphasis that time was on consumer behavior around mobile devices and social media.

The ongoing window specifically asks for ways to protect the children online. People could also suggest the requirements for sites targeting kids and how to address interactive TV and games, shared FTC Chairman Joe Simons in a press release, “In light of rapid technological changes that impact the online children’s marketplace, we must ensure COPPA remains effective. We’re committed to strong COPPA enforcement, as well as industry outreach and a COPPA business hotline to foster a high level of COPPA compliance. But we also need to regularly revisit and, if warranted, update the Rule.”