Google should have known better!

An Associated Press piece in The Guardian newspaper (“YouTube fined $170m for collecting children’s personal data”, 4 September 2019) notes a serious violation of children’s right to privacy:

“Google’s video site YouTube has been fined $170m to settle allegations it collected children’s personal data without their parents’ consent. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined Google $136m and the company will pay an additional $34m to New York state to resolve similar allegations. The fine is the largest the agency has yet levied against Google, although it is tiny compared with the $5bn fine the FTC imposed against Facebook this year for privacy violations.”

With all the furore around personal privacy and the sale of data to third parties, Google should have known better. FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra noted that this is the third time since 2011 that the agency had sanctioned Google for privacy violations. He went on to say, “This latest violation is extremely serious.”

According to UNICEF, “The rights of children… include a variety of communication rights: the right to be heard and to be taken seriously; to free speech and to information; to maintain privacy; to develop cultural identity; and to be proud of one’s heritage and beliefs… Communication efforts need to respect children’s privacy and dignity and foster their self-esteem and confidence.”

In the digital era, children’s communication rights are particularly difficult to protect. Access to digital platforms is not without its safeguards, but there are always loopholes as well as devious people seeking to take advantage of unsuspecting children. In addition, iPhones are ubiquitous and are increasingly a vital part of education systems and practices.

Children need protection when personal data is being collected and processed because they may be less aware of the risks involved. Companies making use of children’s personal data need to set in place procedures that safeguard children from the outset, and design systems and processes with this in mind.

Children have the same rights as adults over their personal data. These include the right to access their personal data; to request rectification; to object to processing; and to have their personal data erased. Even if children do not know or understand their rights, others do.

Google has signally failed in its duty and clearly deserves the penalty imposed by the Federal Trade Commission – even though the fine was not heavy enough.