YouTube pushes the boundaries of disappointing behaviour
It is hard to remember the last time a week went by without a Silicon Valley tech company doing something which manages to not only disappoint, but also horrify. The latest culprit is YouTube.
YouTube is the world’s largest video sharing website and is owned by Google, another disappointing tech company. Unfortunately, it turns out that YouTube has been caught selling the data of children aged 13-and-under for profit in a flagrant breach of American federal law (and basic ethical guidelines).
USA law requires that a company receives explicit parental consent before companies are allowed to either gather or share children’s data – which, needless to say, YouTube did not do. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was not impressed and fined YouTube US$136m, with the state of New York levying a further fine of US$34m.
FTC chairman, Joe Simons, said in a statement: “YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients. 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.”
However, concerns were raised by the Democratic Party members of the FTC commission who considered the fine to be far too low when the scale of the crime is considered. They also raised concerns, led by commissioner Rohit Chopra, that the settlement includes “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.”
Similar objections came from the Center for Digital Democracy which called the fine “woefully low” and said: “A small amount like this would effectively reward Google for engaging in massive and illegal data collection without any regard to children’s safety.”
For reference, YouTube’s ultimate parent company, Alphabet, recorded revenue of US$136.8bn last year, meaning that this fine of US$170m inflicted on YouTube is the equivalent of less than 11 hours of annual revenue. This is so low that not only is it unrecognisable as punishment, it will likely encourage YouTube to continue to sell children’s data for profit in the future.
It shouldn’t really need saying, but if you are violating the privacy of children in order to sell advertising, you are in the wrong. While punishments may currently be trivial to these tech companies, particularly in the USA, the time will come when their behaviour comes back to bite them.