A new report accuses Google of serving targeted ads to children and harvesting their data, potentially violating federal privacy laws.
The allegations cast doubt on Google’s previous promises to protect children better online.
The report, published by advertising analytics firm Adalytics, claims that YouTube continues to serve personalized ads and employ ad trackers on videos and channels labeled “made for kids.”
This would break Google’s 2019 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over alleged Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) violations.
COPPA, enacted in 1998, restricts websites and apps from collecting personal data on users under 13 without explicit parental consent.
In its 2019 settlement, Google paid $170 million and pledged to stop collecting data on children’s content and turn off personalized ads.
According to Adalytics, Google enables advertisers to target children based on their interests and demographics.
The report includes purported examples of major brands like Disney, Verizon, and Hyundai running behavioral ads on nursery rhyme channels and cartoons.
When clicked, these ads allegedly lead to advertiser websites that immediately set tracking cookies and share children’s data with third parties like Facebook and TikTok without obtaining the required consent.
The report states:
“Many advertisers were observed setting ad targeting cookies, persistent identifiers, and engaging in meta-data sharing with data brokers.”
Some ads were even for Google’s products, including YouTube TV and Chrome, which don’t allow users under 18.
The report claims if a toddler clicked these ads, Google would install cookies for ad personalization.
In response, Google denied flouting any regulations, saying it prohibits personalized ads and third-party trackers on children’s videos.
In a blog post, Google says:
“We do not link cookies to the viewing of made for kids content for advertising purposes, and a viewer’s activity on made for kids content can’t be used for ads personalization.”
“The cookies identified in this report are encrypted and not usable by another tech company, advertiser, publisher or a data broker.”
However, the Adalytics report argues that Google makes it overly difficult for advertisers to opt out of having their ads run on kids’ videos.
“No – it is NOT easy to avoid ‘made for kids’ channels,” media buyers surveyed in the report responded.
The report’s authors claim that tools like Google’s Performance Max algorithm may optimize ad delivery for kids’ clicks.
While Google denied any wrongdoing, the report calls for greater transparency and accountability around ads on children’s content. The findings merit closer regulatory scrutiny.
“We welcome responsible research around our products,” said Google’s statement responding to the report.
Privacy advocates argue Google’s model facilitates hidden data collection from children. While Google insists its tools prevent this, critics say it needs to do more to close loopholes.
One advertising executive interviewed in the report states:
“Google has failed advertisers, again. There is no reasonable excuse for ads running on content intended primarily for kids.”
Whether the report proves that YouTube breached its FTC agreement remains to be seen.
Further independent audits of YouTube’s algorithms and ad systems may be needed to ensure proper safeguards for children are in place.
If confirmed, harvesting children’s data for profit — years after Google paid $170 million for similar violations — would likely provoke stern action.
Google maintains that “protecting kids and teens is a top priority” across its platforms.
Featured Image: Aleksandra Suzi/Shutterstock
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