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FTC’s Paltry Google / YouTube Fine Shows the Agency Is Incapable of Protecting Kids

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Note: Today, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) imposed a $170 million fine on Google-owned YouTube over its violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). See Public Citizen’s previous statement in response to news of the settlement. Public Citizen released a report in May showing that 75% of FTC officials have revolving door conflicts with big tech and other industries.

We’ve seen this video before. The FTC has, yet again, failed to protect privacy interests.

This time is different – and worse – than previous FTC failures in one important way. While the agency suffers from limited enforcement authority and generally has no specific authority to enforce consumer privacy interests, that’s not true for children. Under COPPA, the children’s privacy law, the FTC had authority to impose tens of billions in fines against Google for YouTube’s improper corporate surveillance of children, targeted advertising to kids and failure to alert parents what it was up to. But even with this specific and substantial authority – and even in the face of egregious violations of a child protection statute – the FTC has failed to take meaningful action.

A payment of $170 million is no skin off the teeth of an $800 billion company. Parents and families can take no solace from a corporate promise not to break the law in the future – when Google has just done so.

This is a sad, not celebratory day for children’s rights. The leading consumer protection agency has just demonstrated that it will not defend children from blatant exploitation even when it is specifically empowered and ordered to do so.

As Congress looks to adopting new privacy protections, it must also create a new data protection agency – or the new protections will be of minimal value, as the FTC has just proved.