Technology

Feds to YouTube: No More Cookies for Children!

The Federal Trade Commission's settlement with YouTube will cripple online video functionality.

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In a move that could have far-reaching implications for how websites that host third-party content interact with their users, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) yesterday slapped Google with a historic $170 million fine for violating children's privacy laws on YouTube.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prohibits companies from using persistent identifiers—commonly known as cookies—to create targeted advertisements for users under 13 if their parents have not given consent. The FTC accuses YouTube, a Google subsidiary, of flouting the law by implementing targeted advertising on "child-directed channels." It's ordering the tech giant to pay $136 million to the regulatory agency and an additional $34 million to the state of New York.

YouTube has now agreed to stop placing targeted ads on children's content, regardless of the age of the user who is watching. In a more puzzling turn, it will also remove several other features from children's videos, including the ability to comment and receive notifications.

COPPA restricts what companies can do with "personally identifiable information," and the question at the heart of the privacy debate is what exactly that phrase means. In 2013, the FTC expanded its interpretation of the term to include cookies. In theory, the regulatory agency wanted to make it harder to track children's whereabouts. But that may have been a step too far, says Jim Dunstan, general counsel at the policy group TechFreedom. "I think there's a very strong argument, even with all the cookies you have, it would be phenomenally difficult to track back to an actual individual," he tells Reason.

In that same vein, the Google settlement is supposed to protect kids from potential predators. But the decision will likely hamper the creation of new children's content without meaningfully shielding kids from privacy infringements. Many advertisers would have remained compliant under COPPA, as parents can log in and view content with their children. This gives content creators new incentive to mislabel children's content as adult. The complete elimination of targeted ads on those channels would slash their revenues by about 50 percent, according to TechFreedom.

YouTube says it has a solution for that workaround. CEO Susan Wojcicki writes that the company will employ "machine learning to find videos that clearly target young audiences, for example those that have an emphasis on kids characters, themes, toys, or games." But those artificial intelligence capabilities are far from perfect, and what exactly constitutes a children's video remains inherently subjective. YouTube classifies some videos as "child-directed" and others as "family-based play" and "co-play"; who is to say definitively which is which?" And who is to say that only children watch "child-directed" content, some of which is general educational material?

Parents will also have to deal with the fallout, as children's videos will now operate with crippled functionality. All of the typical YouTube video features—from commenting to following a creator to creating a playlist—require a log-in, and thus demand personally identifiable information. Rather than institute an age verification process, the streaming site has opted to eliminate the functions entirely. Adults will no longer be able to plop their children in front of a curated stream of videos, for instance.

Dunstan argues that such changes carry threatening implications for other sites that host third-party content. FTC Chairman Joe Simons disagrees, telling reporters yesterday that "no other company in America is subject to these types of requirements." Yet previous FTC guidance stipulates that "operators of general audience sites" are not required "to investigate the ages of visitors to their sites or services." YouTube is classified as a general audience site—but it still came out on the losing end.

"This is the exact thing that needs to be debated through a rule-making process. We've now got new rules," says Dunstan. "We should be debating this through a process where everybody gets to have their say, as opposed to Google, YouTube, and FTC staff each having their own agendas, closed in a room, which is now going to effectively govern the internet."

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  1. “The complete elimination of targeted ads on those channels would slash their revenues by about 50 percent, according to TechFreedom.”

    Hey, I’ve been assured that complaining about this is whining and that anything YouTube choose is good because they’re a private platform or what not.

    1. You are under 13?

    2. Pretty sure Youtube didn’t choose to enact COPPA.

  2. So why is targeting ads at children worse than targeting ads at anyone? Shouldn’t that be up to the parents? If parents don’t want their kids advertised at, they don’t have to let them do whatever they want on the internet. Problem solved. Everyone wants the government to do their parenting for them.

    1. Worse yet, they want government to do other people’s parenting also.

      1. But, other people might do it wrong. Other people can’t be trusted to do anything right, so the world must be structured such that their decisions don’t matter.

    2. I wish I could be as simplistic as you. Wouldnt have to waste time with actual analysis.

    3. “People expect the government to insure that drugs don’t contain products that are in opposition to what their labels say. They expect others to do the work to keep them safe. Shouldn’t it be their job to police every chemical in a medical compound before they ingest it?”

  3. Wait a minute. Children have been using the internet?

    1. Yes, you should really tone it down.

    2. Someone’s never read Reason’s comment section.

      1. Tony let’s his closest friends read over his shoulder?

  4. Sledgehammer, meet government. Oh, I see you’ve already met.

  5. The FTC is crippling video functionality? I thought the ADA was working on that project.

  6. Google doesn’t allow accounts for children under 13. Apparently not allowing users under 13 on youtube (as logged in users) isn’t good enough to avoid having to pay immense fines.

    Something tells me that the point of the exercise was to extort a 9 figure payout, rather than any kid-protecting.

    1. It was also about moral grandstanding and self-righteous finger wagging.

    2. No… they allow them with parent linking.

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    1. How old are you? And what are you wearing?

  8. “Rather than institute an age verification process, the streaming site has opted to eliminate the functions entirely.”

    They could have left those features intact, but chose not to, so they can play the victim.

    1. They did it to make it clear what effect this ruling will have on their business model.

      1. A business model that relies on exploitation of children.

  9. In a more puzzling turn, it will also remove several other features from children’s videos, including the ability to comment and receive notifications.

    Probably because it is difficult and, more importantly, not profitable, to let people do those things without tracking them. Google doesn’t care what you have to say or what you’re interested in, only that they can use your comments and subscriptions to build your profile to support targeting you with ads.

  10. how do they know if you’re a child or not?
    somehow I see mandatory ID (credit card checks) and the end of anonymous browsing stemming from this….

  11. In a more puzzling turn, it will also remove several other features from children’s videos, including the ability to comment and receive notifications.

    Eliminating user comments… Hmm… one might even think this has been a long-time goal of Big Tech in general…

    1. Eliminating user comments… Hmm… one might even think this has been a long-time goal of Big Tech in general…

      One might surmise that, with the passage of the Communications Fucking Decency Act, the internet was specifically set up to moderate/eliminate unapproved speech.

      Some might consider those who have to *surmise* such a thing to be mildly retarded. It’s like nobody read 1984 prior W’s Presidency.

  12. No more cookies for children, and no soup for you!

  13. Why does reason keep sucking off google? They arent allowed to track children, full stop. They have also been caught tracking users who dont want to be tracked.

    https://thenextweb.com/hardfork/2019/09/04/brave-google-chrome-browser-track-users-hidden-web-pages-gdpr/

    When did reason become so corporatist?

    1. They’ve been that way the whole time I’ve been reading them. Which is admittedly only since like 2011.

      “If you don’t want the local dope peddler selling to your kids your an evil nanny-statist. It’s their right, and if you didn’t want that happening you shouldn’t have let them out of your sight. Also, kids don’t need watchful parents, so stop keeping a close eye on what they’re doing.” is pretty much a good summation of the level of thought coming out of this publication.

  14. Parents will also have to deal with the fallout, as children’s videos will now operate with crippled functionality. All of the typical YouTube video features—from commenting to following a creator to creating a playlist—require a log-in, and thus demand personally identifiable information. Rather than institute an age verification process, the streaming site has opted to eliminate the functions entirely. Adults will no longer be able to plop their children in front of a curated stream of videos, for instance.

    But they will. They just need to create an account. Also, how do you verify the age of people under 18? They have no credit cards. And if the age verification is for people *over* 18 – then that means the same standard for children’s accounts (which will be any account not verified as an adult account) will still apply.

    And do you want age-verification? Because making a Youtube account – contrary to your assertion – requires *no personally identifiable information*. NONE. WHATSOEVER. Not one little bit. Have you made a YouTube account? All you need is an email and then you fake the rest of the ‘personal information’ that it asks for.

    C’mon Binion, have you never told a porkie even once in your life?

    Age verification requires linking an account to a real-world identity. That means tons of channels will feel that chill – and not just ‘alt-right’ channels. Dissenters of all stripes across the world. Is parents needing to take 5 freaking minutes to create a ‘curated list’ of videos themselves really worth that tradeoff?

  15. No, the best it can be tied back to is an IP address – which is a household. Or an apartment building. Your ISP gives a single address to your access point. All devices inside the access point are given their MAC addresses on an as needed basis. Turn off your PC and turn it on again and its likely different. And you can always force an IP change using the IPconfig/release command. That releases your current IP address – making it free to be re-used – and your device will immediately queue for a new one.

    And if you’re worried about that you can spoof your IP address – and change it regularly.

  16. You have overlooked the most important aspect; “something was done!”

  17. Government of the USA had taken a good step I appreciate their work.
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  18. No more cookies for children, That was Great…

    Also, check DDR3 vs DDR4

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