Senators Markey, Blackburn ask FTC to look into YouTube’s ad placements on children’s videos

By 08/17/2023
Senators Markey, Blackburn ask FTC to look into YouTube’s ad placements on children’s videos

For the second time in less than two months, YouTube is responding to a critical inquiry into its advertising practices. Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have written a letter to the FTC asking for an investigation into YouTube’s ad placements on videos intended for children.

The latest to-do over children’s online safety started with a report from Adalytics. The ad data platform — which previously argued that the Google Video Partners program “misled” buyers — raised questions about the data collection that could be happening on kid-friendly content.

According to an Adalytics report, spots from major “adult” brands (such as Procter & Gamble, Ford, and Samsung) have run as pre-roll ads next to videos from CoComelon, Kids Diana Show, and other major family channels. When viewers clicked on those ads, cookies were added to their devices “for the purposes of ad targeting and tracking on the browsers of consumers watching YouTube videos that are clearly labeled as ‘for kids.'”


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Adalytics has the same question as Senators Markey and Blackburn: Does this practice violate the kids’ data privacy law COPPA, which Markey co-authored. A 2013 amendment added web cookies as a form of personal information, making them subject to the law.

Enforcement of COPPA on digital platforms has ramped up in the 2020s, with companies like Google and TikTok facing FTC fines. Now, another inquiry may be in order. “This behavior by YouTube and Google is estimated to have impacted hundreds of thousands, to potentially millions, of children across the United States,” reads the Senators’ letter. “As such, YouTube and Google may have violated COPPA – as well as its 2019 FTC consent decree – in an egregious manner.”

YouTube contested the findings in Adalytics’ Google Video Partners report, and it took a similar stance in response to the firm’s COPPA-related allegations. A Google spokesperson told the New York Times that Adalytics’ latest conclusions are “deeply flawed and misleading.”

The spokesperson admitted that some adult-oriented ads run on children’s videos in order to reach parents, but he clarified that those ads are not personalized. The cookies only attach to the viewer’s device once the ad is clicked; that process takes the viewer off YouTube.

Those rebuttals may not satisfy all buyers. Adalytics’ previous YouTube-related broadside caused a stir in the advertising industry, and some agency execs want more thorough answers now. “I’m incredibly concerned about it,” UM Worldwide Chief Privacy Officer Arielle Garcia told the New York Times.

[UPDATE 8/18: A YouTube spokesperson shared the following statement with Tubefilter:

“This is the second time in recent weeks that Adalytics has published a deeply flawed and misleading report. Personalized advertising has never been allowed on YouTube Kids, and in January 2020 we expanded this to anyone watching ‘made for kids’ content on YouTube, regardless of their age. The report makes completely false claims and draws uninformed conclusions based solely on the presence of cookies, which are widely used in these contexts for the purposes of fraud detection and frequency capping — both of which are permitted under COPPA. The portions of this report that were shared with us didn’t identify a single example of these policies being violated.”

Several Google execs have offered similarly sharp statements in the wake of the report. The tech giant is clearly bothered by Adalytics’ spate of negative reports. A spokesperson told Tubefilter that Google has attempted to meet with the ad firm to clear the air, but its offer has been ignored so far.]

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