FTC Mulls Over Disabling YouTube Ads In Favor Of Kids’ Privacy

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FTC Chairman Joseph Simons and Commissioner Noah Phillips are reportedly considering forcing YouTube to demonetize content aimed at younger audiences in a bid to bring the video sharing platform into compliance with U.S. laws pertaining to data collection. The move would effectively place control over the data collection in the hands of content creators on the platform since it would be up to those creators to disable ads on videos that children watch.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy are opposed to the idea and have released statements claiming that such a move would simply "shift the burden" away from YouTube and onto the creators on the site.

An ongoing discussion


Disabling ads on some YouTube content would undoubtedly present a challenge for the Google-run platform but the proposed solution is nowhere near final either. The groups in question have been calling for action on YouTube's practices since at least April of last year.

Specifically, they've called for an investigation into the service, which doesn't require an account to access — with the exception of potentially problematic content — and for which age verification can easily be spoofed or bypassed.

As is standard practice with online advertising, the ads are typically used to track virtual movement and activity across the web, leading to some users who are under 13 or who don't have proper parental permission to be tracked or have their data collected. That includes some personal identifying data such as phone numbers, app usage data, and device information, which is at the heart of the debate here.

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Aside from an investigation, the groups have also called for select content aimed at kids to be moved to an entirely separate platform that doesn't incorporate the same advertising practices. That's in addition to fines for YouTube that have previously been estimated at well into the tens of millions of dollars.

The bigger picture

For now, it isn't immediately clear whether the proposed action will be taken at all since agreement about how to handle the issue remains elusive. The source has reportedly declined to acknowledge that an investigation is ongoing and neither YouTube or the FTC have publicly addressed the matter.


Conversely, Virginia Senator Mark Warner has sided with the advocacy groups, referring to the proposal as "out of touch" due to the implicit harm it could cause for YouTubers.

YouTubers generally rely on ads as a means to monetize videos and would be opposed to the idea, the groups and senator have said. So the move would only serve to cause harm to creators generating content for consumption by children without fixing the underlying issues with ad-based tracking and data collection.

Instead, the senator mirrored earlier statements made by fellow representatives who have previously called for Google to be broken up, pointed to the market dominance enjoyed by the search giant as the real source of the trouble.