YouTube’s rise started with a simple slogan: “Broadcast yourself.” The perks of participating on the video-sharing platform are not without perils, especially if the company is willing to broadcast your little ones’ data, too.
On Wednesday, YouTube parent company Google reached a $170 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for incursions into the privacy of its youngest users. Along with New York’s attorney general, the FTC found YouTube monitored and tracked kids’ browsing behaviors, which were then used to sell and place targeted ads.
As part of the settlement, YouTube will create a new system requiring channel owners flag children’s content, so targeted ads are left off those videos. Parents must also grant permission before any personal information, like a child’s name or picture, is shared.
The decision to place the onus on families and channels is ironic. YouTube’s terms of service warn it is “not intended” for children younger than 13. Its actions suggest otherwise, but the company said in a statement “responsibility” is its “No. 1 priority.”
Perhaps a history lesson is in order from one of the most popular children’s shows in history. In the mid-1960s, “Sesame Street” founders Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett wanted to use television to help educate and prepare disadvantaged kids for school.
When the first episode aired on public television stations in 1969, parents could trust their kids’ viewing experience was productive and private. PBS has rigorous “Editorial Standards and Practices” for its content.
Fifty years later, “Sesame Street” has transformed its lovable set of characters and success into the digital space. Since joining YouTube in 2006, the popular show has netted more than 8 million subscribers and 1 billion views.
But on other popular YouTube channels for kids, the creators’ success stories are less clear. For example, “Cocomelon—Nursery Rhymes” also nets billions of views, but according to an April Wall Street Journal report, the creators behind the content are a mystery.
A better slogan for YouTube and its users could be “Broadcast yourself responsibly.” And yet, that message still doesn’t solve what tech giants have been reluctant to do—be accountable for their behaviors and the content on their platforms.