YouTube faces backlash on kids’ ads

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The Big Story 

YouTube is under fire over its handling of kids’ data and ads on children’s content, with advocacy groups requesting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) probe the company. 

© AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Fairplay, The Center for Digital Democracy, Common Sense and Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sent a letter Wednesday asking the regulatory agency to launch an investigation based on findings that the groups said indicates YouTube parent company Google is violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the company’s own rules. 


The request and reporting from Fairplay builds on a separate report released last week by Adalytics that also questioned Google’s handling of children’s data. It urged two senators to ask the FTC to look into Google’s compliance with COPPA and its 2019 settlement with the FTC over potential COPPA violations.


Fairplay conducted a follow-up report to look into ad targeting.  Fairplay and ad buyers ran test ad campaigns on YouTube where they selected a series of user attributes and affinities for ad targeting and instructed Google to run those ads on “made for kids” channels.


The test campaign was also targeted to 21 audience segments unlikely to be children, such as “recently retired” or “moving soon,” so it would be unlikely that those ads would be placed contextually on the channels.


Since YouTube’s policy states it does not run personalized ads on “made for kids” content, treating any viewer of the content as a child, Fairplay said the ad campaign should have resulted in “zero placements.” However, the test resulted in all 1,446 test ads running on the identified “made for kids” channels, according to the report. 


A Google spokesperson said in a statement that the conclusions in the report “point to a fundamental misunderstanding of how advertising works on made for kids content.” 


“We do not allow ads personalization on made for kids content and we do not allow advertisers to target children with ads across any of our products. We also do not offer advertisers the option to directly target made for kids content as a whole,” the spokesperson said. 


“Given the allegations, we wish the author of the report had contacted us first. We’ve reached out to them to clarify what they saw and share how our protections work,” they added. 


Read more in a full report at

Welcome to The Hill’s Technology newsletter, I’m Rebecca Klar — tracking the latest moves from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.


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