The Federal Trade Commission (as in the U.S. government) punished Google’s video site YouTube recently with a $136 million fine — which many argue might be too light — for collecting children’s personal data without their parents’ consent. The state of New York, too, imposed a $34 million fine for this offense.
The government has an obligation to look out for the welfare of its citizens. This extends to curb efforts to invade a person’s privacy.
Businesses such as Google, Facebook and other internet-based companies cannot be allowed to operate unfettered.
Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission dropped an enormous hammer on Facebook with a $5 billion — yes, with a B — fine for privacy violations.
“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. Yet when it came to complying with the law protecting children’s privacy, he said, “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.”
Young children are protected by a federal law that requires parental consent before companies can collect and share their personal information.
While YouTube contends it’s intended for ages 13 and older, the fact is that many popular YouTube channels feature cartoons or sing-a-longs made for children. YouTube said its children’s version does track information about what kids are watching but only in order to recommend videos. It also collects personally identifying device information.
Come on! Those running YouTube very well know the audience for their products, and they gather use information because that’s how companies like Google and Facebook make their huge profits.
Given the billions and billions of dollars these new media companies are raking in, it’s tough to say these fines are enough to change bad behavior — even to some degree.
It’s certain, however, that these won’t be the last fines levied. More private information will be accessed without permission on the internet, and it will be exploited.
That is — or, at least, should be — a huge concern to all Americans. Congress will eventually have to do more to protect the privacy of the public.
But, at this point, it’s positive that the Federal Trade Commission is paying attention and taking these security breaches seriously.