YouTube accused of harvesting UK children’s data

A campaigner has filed an official complaint with ICO

YouTube has been accused of breaching UK data privacy laws by collecting the viewing data of children aged under 13.

Campaigner Duncan McCann has filed an official complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) alleging the tech giant has broken the new “age-appropriate design code”.

A staff member at child advocacy group 5Rights, he says the site is harvesting data about what the youngsters view, where they are watching and what device they are using.

“Imagine YouTube as an adult stranger following your child ‘online’ with a virtual clipboard recording everything they do,” Mr McCann said in a statement. “That is what is happening every day and they are not just doing it with your child. They are doing it with up to 5 million other UK children as well, resulting in an enormous amount of personal information being gathered.”

He called on YouTube to change the design of their platform and delete the data they have been gathering “unlawfully” on under-13s. “Never mind it being against the law, it is a massive, unlicensed, social experiment on our children with uncertain consequences,” he added.

YouTube has a minimum age restriction of 13 on its main site and it offers a separate children’s app called YouTube Kids, which has much stricter data processing. It also has a “supervised experience” which requires parental consent.

Mr McCann argues plenty of children watch YouTube content on family devices, where this data can be gathered by default because it is not registered as a children’s account.

The complaint is thought to be the first test of the ICO children’s code, which was launched in 2020, when tech firms were warned they had one year to comply with it.

In 2019, YouTube was fined $170m (£139m) by a US regulator for breaching children’s privacy laws.

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