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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched an investigation into YouTube over mishandling children’s private data and may levy the popular video-sharing website with a potential fine.  This probe has already prompted the tech giant to reevaluate some of its business practices. Google, which owns YouTube, declined to comment on the investigation.

A report from the Washington Post says this investigation was triggered by complaints from children’s health and privacy groups. These complaints mentioned that YouTube improperly collected data from kids using the video service, thus violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a 1998 law known as COPPA that forbids the tracking and targeting of users younger than age 13.

The Washington Post said, according to consumer advocates, “some of the problems highlighted by the YouTube investigation are shared by many of the most popular online services, including social media sites, such as Instagram and Snapchat, and games such as Fortnite”.

YouTube has come under scrutiny for exposing children to dangerous conspiracy theories, hate speech, violence, sexual content and even for catering to pedophiles, the New York Times reported.

“The companies say their services are intended for adults and that they take action when they find users who are underage. Still, they remain widely popular with children, especially preteens, according to surveys and other data, raising concerns that the companies’ efforts — and federal law — have not kept pace with the rapidly evolving online world”, the Washington Post reports.

In February, Youtube received major criticism from companies and individuals for recommending videos of minors and allowing pedophiles to comment on these posts, with a specific time stamp of the video of when an exposed private part of the young child was visible. YouTube was also condemned for monetizing these videos allowing advertisements for major brands like Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Fortnite, Grammarly, L’Oreal, Maybelline, Metro: Exodus, Peloton and SingleMuslims.com, etc to be displayed on these videos.

Read Also: YouTube disables all comments on videos featuring children in an attempt to curb predatory behavior and appease advertisers

According to The Verge, “The YouTube app, although generally is safer than the main  platform, it has faced an array of moderation challenges, including graphic discussions about pornography and suicide, explicit sexual language in cartoons, and modeling unsafe behaviors like playing with lit matches.”

“One of the biggest requests that YouTube executives have received from policymakers, critics, and even some employees is to stop recommending videos that contain children”, The Verge reports. A YouTube spokesperson told The New York Times earlier this month that doing so would hurt creators. Instead, the company has limited “recommendations on videos that it deems as putting children at risk,” according to the Times.

Marc Groman, a privacy lawyer who previously worked for the FTC and the White House, “YouTube is a really high-profile target, and for obvious reasons because all of our kids are on it.” “But the issues on YouTube that we’re all grappling with are elsewhere and everywhere.”

In a statement to the Washington Post, Andrea Faville, a spokesperson from YouTube said, she emphasized that not all discussions about product changes come to fruition. “We consider lots of ideas for improving YouTube and some remain just that — ideas,” she said. “Others, we develop and launch, like our restrictions to minors live-streaming or updated hate speech policy.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that YouTube was planning to migrate all children’s content off the service into a separate app, YouTube Kids, to better protect younger viewers from problematic material, “a change that would be difficult to implement because of the sheer volume of content on YouTube, and potentially could be costly to the company in lost advertising revenue.”

David Monahan of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a Boston-based advocacy group told The Post, “YouTube’s business model puts profits first, and kids’ well-being last”

“When we filed a COPPA complaint with the FTC a year ago, Google’s response was ridiculous — that YouTube is not a site for kids, when it’s actually the most popular children’s site on the Internet. We hope the FTC will act soon, and require YouTube to move all kids’ content to YouTube Kids with no marketing, no autoplay or recommendations, and strong protections for children’s privacy, he further added.

U.S. Senator Ed Markey said in a statement to Gizmodo, “In the coming weeks, I will introduce legislation that will combat online design features that coerce children and create bad habits, commercialization, and marketing that manipulate kids and push them into consumer culture, and the amplification of inappropriate and harmful content on the internet. It’s time for the adults in the room to step in and ensure that corporate profits no longer come before kids’ privacy.”

To know more about this news in detail, head over to The Washington Post.

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