YouTube’s Real Beef With COPPA

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YouTube was recently found to have been in violation of COPPA, and was subsequently fined. Afterwards, in a public statement, YouTube suggested that they’d crack down on content creators who post content directed towards children without tagging their videos as child-appropriate. Content creators that run afoul of YouTube’s COPPA measures could end up fined $42,000 for each offending video.

Since learning of this, YouTube’s content creators are speaking up in outrage about both COPPA and YouTube, with some saying that this recent development could result in the end of their channels.

If you’re wondering what COPPA is, it’s the Child Online Privacy Protection Act, a law passed in 1998 that makes it illegal for website owners to collect data on children under the age of 13. Why 13 and not 18, which is the generally-agreed-upon age of adulthood, I don’t know. Website owners have largely responded by disallowing persons under the age of 13 from starting accounts. In light of this, it should be obvious that COPPA is a good thing, as it extends protections to children online that adults would love to have.

So then, why the outcry among YouTubers against it? The answer is simple: YouTube has turned the onus of compliance with COPPA to its content creators, complete with a disproportionately steep punishment for slipping up.

That being the case, it’s obvious why YouTubers would be upset with YouTube and COPPA. While this seems unfair on YouTube’s part, it would be just the right move if their aim was to present COPPA in an intensely negative light, turning public opinion against COPPA, and potentially stir up a movement that results in getting COPPA repealed.

Is that what’s motivating YouTube? It’s hard to discern motives for certain, but if turning people against COPPA wasn’t their plan, it’s hard to think of a reason for them to punish the community for their own failure to properly manage a website. But if we were to look for motives, it helps to understand how YouTube makes money.

YouTube is owned by Google, a tech company that offers many online services that are (apparently) free to those who want to use them. These services include Gmail, Google Drive, Google Maps, and the huge search engine that put them on the map. Because Google offers its services for free, many have wondered: How does Google make money?

Google makes money by collecting data. About you. And anyone else they can. Google then takes this information and sells it to a network of advertisers who then use it to serve targeted advertisements.

Make no mistake, the information collected about people is something that ad companies are willing to spend a lot of money on. On the internet, advertisements are big business. The more effective advertisements are the ones that succeed in convincing people to make purchases. If advertisers know what kind of things appeal to you, they can serve you advertisements specific to you that other visitors to the same page might not see.

As a person uses Google products, Google collects data on that person that’s used to construct a profile specific to them. While Google is who we’re talking about today, they’re far from the only tech company that collects data like this to sell to advertisers. Even social media outlets get in on this, and it’s on these platforms that people voluntarily surrender piles of information about their interests.

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To give an idea of how extensive an ad company’s profile could be on you, the algorithms that are used collect deeply personal data, including psychological information. An ad company is able to make determinations about a person’s internal tendencies, including sexual preferences, that the person themselves might not even know about. Even the federal government doesn’t collect this kind of data on the general population. If they wanted to, tech companies are capable of making a person’s life a living hell, and they have all they need to do so.

If that’s not scary enough for you, try this one: an advertising company was able to determine that a woman was pregnant based only on her purchasing history, then serve her targeted ads based on this information before the woman herself discovered that she was pregnant.

Considering this, think about what Google has to gain from having COPPA repealed: if COPPA no longer factored into their considerations, their dragnet of data collection could be cast without restraint. Children would then be included in Google’s data collection endeavors. As the shopping season comes full swing, consider what this would mean for the pocketbooks of millions of parents: children would be included in Google’s psychoanalytical scheme of subconscious desires, to be directed as their data purchasers wished.

Of course, indirectly encouraging parents to max out credit cards on Christmas toys is just one of many ways the data purchasers can use data from children. If the data purchasers had political motives, they could use this data to direct culture and political opinion in a manner and scale that has never been seen before.

If you want tech companies such as Google to collect data on your kids, then go right on ahead and play into YouTube’s hands: react with outrage about COPPA as though COPPA was to blame. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s about time that even more limits were placed on tech companies concerning the data that they can collect about us.

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