Letter to FTC Chair urges immediate action to stop tracking, targeting of children online without parental consent in violation of Senator Markey’s landmark COPPA law
Washington (August 17, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and the author of the landmark Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, today wrote to Chair of the Federal Trade Commission Lina Khan pushing for an urgent investigation into YouTube and its parent company Google following new reporting from the New York Times and Adalytics, an ad quality and transparency platform, which reveals that the companies potentially violated both their FTC Consent Decree and COPPA by tracking and targeting children on their platform without parental consent.

The findings indicate that YouTube and Google are facilitating rampant collection and distribution of children’s data by serving targeted advertising to viewers watching child-directed content. When the advertisements are clicked, the platform collects troves of data and provides that information to data brokers and third-party companies without parental consent. If true, these practices are a direct violation of both federal law governing the privacy rights of children and YouTube’s own policy of prohibiting targeted advertisement on child-directed content – instituted following a $170 million fine from the FTC in 2019 for repeatedly violating COPPA.

In their letter to FTC Chair Khan, Senators Markey and Blackburn wrote, “This behavior by YouTube and Google is estimated to have impacted hundreds of thousands, to potentially millions, of children across the United States. As such, YouTube and Google may have violated COPPA – as well as its 2019 FTC consent decree – in an egregious manner.”

“YouTube and Google cannot continue treating young people’s data as an unprotected commodity from which to profit with abandon. Not only must the FTC Act, but Congress must also pass legislation to protect young people’s privacy online and finally ban targeted advertising to kids and teens. We look forward to working with the Commission to ensure young people continue to have strong privacy protections,” the lawmakers continued.

In their letter, the senators demand the FTC take urgent action to:
  1. Investigate and hold YouTube and Google accountable for violations of COPPA and the FTC Act, as well as YouTube’s 2019 consent decree;
  2. If violations are found, take strong and swift steps to stop YouTube and Google from collecting data from any user known to be under 13, delete all data under their control collected from children under 13 (even if the user is now 13 or older), and prevent YouTube and Google from monetizing the data of these children; and,
  3. Use its full authority to address any downstream impacts of YouTube and Google’s collection and distribution of children’s data, including investigating how this data has been used by advertisers and data brokers.
In their letter, the Senators also highlight the need to pass updated legislation to protect children’s privacy online. For more than a decade, Senator Markey has been fighting for passage of an update to his 1998 COPPA legislation. His Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0), which would modernize data privacy rules for the 21st century to ensure children and teenagers are protected online, successfully passed unanimously through the Senate Commerce Committee in July.