A lawsuit seeking class-action status alleges video-streaming service YouTube, a Google subsidiary, unlawfully collects personal information from children without parental consent and harvests their data for advertising purposes, in violation of British and European data privacy laws.
The lawsuit, filed in U.K. High Court, represents the first action filed on behalf of children against a big tech company in the United Kingdom or Europe. It seeks over £2.5 billion (roughly U.S. $3.2 billion) in damages on behalf of more than five million children and their parents.
According to the allegations, YouTube’s targeting and profiting from child audiences violates the U.K. Data Protection Act and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). “British and European laws are there to protect all citizen’s privacy and data rights, with special protections for children. However, Google continues to break those laws,” said Lesley Hannah, a partner at London-based law firm Hausfeld & Co, who is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“The company needs to be held to account and pay compensation to all families who use YouTube in England and Wales,” Hannah said. Serving as co-counsel in the case is Foxglove, a tech justice nonprofit group.
While YouTube claims not to target underage viewers, a 2019 report conducted by U.K. media regulator Ofcom found that, among three-quarters of children between the ages of 5 and 15, “YouTube remains a significant player in the panorama of children’s viewing.” Furthermore, the report found YouTube is now also used by half of children aged 3-4, up from 45 percent in 2018.
YouTube does not comment on pending litigation.
If successful, the lawsuit would not be the first time Google has had to pay up for children’s privacy violations. In September 2019, Google and YouTube reached a groundbreaking $170 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General regarding alleged violations the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Rule in the United States.
In their complaint, the FTC and NYAG alleged YouTube violated the COPPA Rule by collecting personal information—in the form of persistent identifiers that are used to track users across the Internet—from viewers of child-directed channels without first notifying parents and getting their consent. YouTube earned millions of dollars by using the identifiers, commonly known as cookies, to deliver targeted ads to viewers of these channels, according to the complaint.