YouTube Ads May Have Led To Online Tracking of Children … – Slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the New York Times: This year, BMO, a Canadian bank, was looking for Canadian adults to apply for a credit card. So the bank’s advertising agency ran a YouTube campaign using an ad-targeting system from Google that employs artificial intelligence to pinpoint ideal customers.
But Google, which owns YouTube, also showed the ad to a viewer in the United States on a Barbie-themed children’s video on the “Kids Diana Show,” a YouTube channel for preschoolers whose videos have been watched more than 94 billion times. When that viewer clicked on the ad, it led to BMO’s website, which tagged the user’s browser with tracking software from Google, Meta, Microsoft and other companies, according to new research from Adalytics, which analyzes ad campaigns for brands. As a result, leading tech companies could have tracked children across the internet, raising concerns about whether they were undercutting a federal privacy law, the report said. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, requires children’s online services to obtain parental consent before collecting personal data from users under age 13 for purposes like ad targeting.

Adalytics identified more than 300 brands’ ads for adult products, like cars, on nearly 100 YouTube videos designated as “made for kids” that were shown to a user who was not signed in, and that linked to advertisers’ websites. It also found several YouTube ads with violent content, including explosions, sniper rifles and car accidents, on children’s channels. An analysis by The Times this month found that when a viewer who was not signed into YouTube clicked the ads on some of the children’s channels on the site, they were taken to brand websites that placed trackers — bits of code used for purposes like security, ad tracking or user profiling — from Amazon, Meta’s Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others — on users’ browsers. As with children’s television, it is legal, and commonplace, to run ads, including for adult consumer products like cars or credit cards, on children’s videos. There is no evidence that Google and YouTube violated their 2019 agreement with the F.T.C.

The report’s findings raise new concerns about YouTube’s advertising on children’s content. In 2019, YouTube and Google agreed topay a record $170 million fineto settle accusations from the Federal Trade Commission and the State of New York that the company had illegally collected personal information from children watching kids’ channels. Regulators said the company had profited from using children’s data to target them with ads. YouTube then said it would limit the collection of viewers’ data and stop serving personalized ads on children’s videos.
On Thursday, two United States senators sent a letter to the F.T.C., urging it to investigate whether Google and YouTube had violated COPPA, citing Adalytics and reporting by The New York Times. Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, said they were concerned that the company may have tracked children and served them targeted ads without parental consent, facilitating “the vast collection and distribution” of children’s data. “This behavior by YouTube and Google is estimated to have impacted hundreds of thousands, to potentially millions, of children across the United States,” the senators wrote. Google spokesman Michael Aciman called the report’s findings “deeply flawed and misleading.”

Google has stated that running ads for adults on children’s videos is useful because parents watching could become customers. However, they acknowledge that violent ads on children’s videos violate their policies and have taken steps to prevent such ads from running in the future. Google claims they do not use personalized ads on children’s videos, ensuring compliance with COPPA.

Google notes that it does not inform advertisers if a viewer has watched a children’s video, only that they clicked on the ad. Google also says it cannot control data collection on a brand’s website after a YouTube viewer clicks an ad — a process that could occur on any website.


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