Science & Tech

YouTube faces £2.5BILLION for using data of European children without consent

YouTube is facing a landmark legal battle for allegedly breaching the privacy and data rights of millions of European children – potentially saddling its parent firm Google with a £2.5 billion bill.

Documents claiming the company has harvested the data of users under 13 without consent, then sold it to advertising companies in breach of both UK and EU law.

It is understood that Google will strongly dispute the claim. One of its arguments is that the main YouTube platform is not intended for those under 13, who should be using the YouTube Kids app, which incorporates more safeguards.

Google is also expected to point to a series of changes that it introduced last year to improve notification to parents, limit data collection and restrict personalised adverts.

But crucially it would set a precedent, potentially making YouTube liable for payouts to the estimated five million children in Britain who use the site as well as their parents or guardians.

Confirming the case has been lodged, Mr McCann last night said: ‘We used to be worried about how children used the internet, the dangers of children being exposed to pornography or being groomed.

‘That is still a problem, but we should also be aware of how the internet is using children, which was not the case ten years ago. Are we comfortable with children being products of the internet rather than products of their parents?’

Mr McCann, 41, will argue that YouTube and Google have breached both the UK’s Data Protection Act and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

His claim also alleges that, without the consent of parents, the firms sell the information gleaned from children to companies such as toy manufacturers who target youngsters with adverts.

He said: ‘It cannot be right that Google can take children’s private data without explicit permission and then sell it to advertisers to target children. I believe it is only through legal action and damages that these companies will change their behaviour, and it is only through a class action that we can fight these companies on an equal basis.’

YouTube has denied selling users’ personal information.

The case, which focuses on children who have watched YouTube since May 2018 when the Data Protection Act became law, is backed by digital privacy campaigners Foxglove, and the global law firm Hausfeld. Lesley Hannah, of Hausfeld, said: ‘This is an incredibly important case. Tech titans such as Google cannot be above the law.’

Foxglove director Cori Crider added: ‘The cost of YouTube’s free services is kids addicted, influenced and with no privacy. Google won’t clean up its act until it is forced to do so by the courts.’

Last night, a YouTube spokesman said: ‘We don’t comment on pending litigation. YouTube is not for children under the age of 13. We launched the YouTube Kids app [in 2015] as a dedicated destination for kids and have made further changes that allow us to better protect kids and families on YouTube.’

The case is not expected to come to court before next autumn and has been underwritten by Vannin Capital, a company which will take a cut of any compensation that remains unclaimed. The action will also depend on the outcome of another data and privacy case against Google which does not cover children.

Under the Data Protection Act and the EU’s GDPR, which will be brought into UK law after Brexit, people have the right to decide whether personal data is collected and how it is used.

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