YouTube is facing a ground-breaking class action lawsuit in the UK for allegedly breaching millions of under-13s’ privacy and data rights.
A claim lodged in the UK high court accuses parent company Google of harvesting children’s data without gaining prior parental consent.
Its activities constitute major breaches of privacy and data rules, including the UK Data Protection Act and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), claims digital researcher and father Duncan McCann, who is bringing the case.
“My kids love YouTube, and I want them to be able to use it. But YouTube needs to comply with the law. It isn’t ‘free’ – our kids are paying for it with their attention and private data,” he says.
“Like many parents, I am conscious of what’s happening with my kids’ data online, but even so it’s just impossible to combat Google’s lure and influence, which comes from its surveillance power. There’s a massive power imbalance between us and them, and it needs to be fixed.”
While the minimum age for YouTube is 13, McCann claims that large amounts of content are clearly aimed at small children, including nursery programmes, toy reviews, cartoons, unboxing videos and other child-specific activities.
“Privacy and data protection laws are there to protect everyone; not least children, who, unquestionably, deserve a higher level of protection,” says Lesley Hannah, a partner at Hausfeld & Co, the law firm leading the litigation.
“Yet YouTube operates in a way that breaks those laws. Google needs to be held to account and pay compensation to all families who use YouTube in England and Wales.”
The action is being funded by Vannin Capital, a global litigation funder, and is expected to come to court late next year. It covers five million children, based on regulator Ofcom’s recent finding that 50% of children in England and Wales aged 3-4 years old and 90% of children aged 12 years old use YouTube’s main service.
If successful, it could cost the company more than £2 billion.
Earlier this year, YouTube cut back on the amount of data it collects for videos marked as ‘made for kids’. The move formed part of a record $170 million settlement of a claim by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the New York Attorney General that the company had violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
“We don’t comment on pending litigation. YouTube is not for children under the age of 13,” says a YouTube spokesperson.
“We launched the YouTube Kids app as a dedicated destination for kids and are always working to better protect kids and families on YouTube.”