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Regulators Fine Google a Record $170 Million for Violating Children’s Privacy

Google logo at the Viva Tech summit in Paris, France (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Google agreed Wednesday to pay a $170 million fine to settled claims that its subsidiary, YouTube, violated children’s privacy by illegally gathering their personal information and selling it to advertisers without their consent or that of their parents.

The fine, which is the largest civil penalty ever leveled for a such a privacy violation, was part of a settlement reached by the Federal Trade Commission and New York’s attorney general in response to Google’s violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The FTC will receive $136 million, while $34 million will go to the state of New York.

“This settlement achieves a significant victory for the millions of parents whose children watch child-directed content on YouTube,” Republican FTC chairman Joe Simons and fellow GOP commissioner Christine Wilson said in a joint statement. “It also sends a strong message to children’s content providers and to platforms.”

The settlement, which was approved by the FTC 3-2 party-line vote, also requires that YouTube implement a feature that allows content creators to flag videos made for users under 13 years old, so that targeted ads won’t be placed in those videos. YouTube will also be required to ask for parents’ permission before collecting personal information from children.

While the FTC managed to secure a record children’s privacy settlement, many Big Tech critics believe Google’s punishment should have been substantially more severe.

“Google made billions off the backs of children, developing a host of intrusive and manipulative marketing practices that take advantage of their developmental vulnerabilities,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “More fundamental changes will be required to ensure that YouTube is a safe and fair platform for young people.”

The settlement represents the latest salvo in the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to rein in big tech. The FTC levied a $5 billion fine against Facebook last month after conducting an investigation into the extent of the tech giant’s data-gathering capabilities.

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