Sputnik discussed the complaint with David Monahan, from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
Sputnik: Can you tell us about the situation surrounding YouTube and Google and the collection of personal information on under-aged children, what is the extent of this and what are the dangers?
David Monahan: YouTube is really the number one brand for kids in America and it's one of the most popular websites visited by kids, yet, Google is pretending there are no kids on YouTube, if you look at the privacy policies for YouTube it says it's a site for ages 13 and up, so they're just not complying with the privacy law that requires them to get parental consent before collecting information from kids. So, on the one hand, they're benefiting from having all of these millions of kids on their site, charging high advertising dollars to companies that know kids are watching, they are collecting information from kids but they're just ignoring the federal privacy law.
Sputnik: You're the campaign manager at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, what is the impact of advertising and commercials on children?
David Monahan: Well, you know children are vulnerable, they don't really understand the persuasive intent of advertising, so they are so easily persuaded and they can be kind of swayed when they're in their formative years and they should be focusing on education, and building their skills to do well in school, it's a big distraction to think that what they should really be focusing on is drinking soft drinks and eating junk food, and buying toys. So that's really why we do the work that we do to try and keep corporations from unfairly targeting kids, but it's also a concern about their privacy, when they're on YouTube, YouTube and Google are tracking what sites they're visiting, what videos they're watching, and then they're targeting ads directly to the kids and that's why the federal privacy law is there. So that parents will have the ability to determine whether their children should be having their information collected that way, and Google knows that. They're just ignoring the law.
Sputnik: I'm thinking that what Google is thinking and what many parents are thinking is that there are certain services that allow you to track where your child is, when the child is outside through their cell phone, and people probably give permission to Google for that function to work, does that automatically give Google the right to then track everything else that the child is doing, if the parent wants to know where their child is playing or where they're located?
Sputnik: What do you expect the Federal Trade Commission to do right now regarding the action against YouTube?
David Monahan: Well, we're expecting that the Federal Trade Commission will take this very seriously. You know this comes on the heels of all of the news about Facebook and the ways that they have been permitting companies to access their users' information and we have reason to hope that the Federal Trade Commission realizes that these are really vital issues to Americans right now. So we're expecting that they'll investigate and, basically, call Google on the carpet to say why are you targeting these kids and not even complying with the one requirement that you have related to children being online, to get parents' consent upfront, and we think when they see that they're violating this, we're hoping that the Federal Trade Commission will require Google to change their practices, comply with the law and also sanction them for the violations that they've had over the years. If you look at the millions of children that have been swept up in this, there really could be a penalty that will total in the billions of dollars.
Sputnik: Can you tell us how much is this estimated to be worth, this traffic and this information that's collected on children under 13?
David Monahan: It will be hard for me to put a dollar amount on this, but it really seems to be a foundation of their business model right now. Google is making millions and millions on driving up ad prices whether it is for food or music, entertainment, toys, they're saying here's where the kids are if you want to put your ad in front of the kids come to YouTube, so they're making millions selling those ads and they're also making money by collecting all this information and being able to target kids with ads, so it's really a kind of a foundation of their business.
Sputnik: Well many would say that the kids don't make the final decision, the parents have the money and the kids don't have any finances right now or are like a very scant, just some kind of an allowance or something, so some people would say don't worry about it because it's the parents that have to pay the money anyway, I guess children influence their parents, they ask them for a certain toy, or certain candy, or certain food, right?
David Monahan: They do, there's a term that we advocates use and the advertisers use as well and it's called pester power, so the advertisers know that kids have a very big say in what is purchased in the home, so when the child see an ad for a toy they'll start asking their parents to please buy them the toy, and if it's a soda or certain junk food brand the child will start to say I want this, please, and then after a certain amount of time the parent is finally going to give up and say okay let's go to that restaurant or let me buy that toy, the advertisers know this, and that's why they spend a lot of money to trying to target kids and it's just really unfair because kids should have the opportunity to have a healthy upbringing and not be swayed by these corporate messages.
The views and opinions expressed by David Monahan are those of the expert speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.