Google will pay a record $170 million fine to settle a lawsuit filed by federal and state authorities that charged the internet giant with violating children’s privacy on YouTube, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said Wednesday.
The settlement requires Google and YouTube to pay $136 million to the FTC and $34 million to New York state for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, by collecting personal information from children without their parents’ consent.
The FTC and the New York attorney general alleged in a complaint that YouTube gathered children’s personal information by using “cookies,” or personal identifiers, that track users online. According to the suit, YouTube earned millions of dollars by using the information to deliver targeted ads to kids.
COPPA requires online websites to obtain parental consent prior to collecting kids’ online usage information. The FTC and New York Attorney General Letitia James said that, while YouTube claimed it caters to a general audience, many of its online channels are aimed at children under the age 13. That requires the service to comply with COPPA guidelines.
“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. “Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids.”
For example, a toymaker with a YouTube channel could track people who viewed its videos to send ads for its own products that are targeted to children. The FTC said in its complaint that Google and YouTube told toymaker Mattel that YouTube “is today’s leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels.” It also said that the companies told Hasbro that YouTube is the “#1 website regularly visited by kids.”
But when it came to advertisers, the FTC alleged that YouTube told at least one marketer that the video-search company need not comply with COPPA, as it did not have users under the age of 13 on the platform.
Prior to Google’s settlement, the largest civil FTC penalty for a children’s data-privacy case was a $5.7 million for a case in February involving social media app TikTok. But critics say Wednesday’s settlement still amounts to a drop in the bucket for Google, whose parent company Alphabet was sitting on $121 billion in cash and securities at the end of June.
YouTube responded to the FTC charges Wednesday in a blog post outlining the data privacy changes it will make on its video search platform starting in about four months. The tech company said it will treat data from anyone watching children’s content on the website as “coming from a child, regardless of the age of the user.”
The company also said it will stop delivering personalized ads on children’s content entirely. It will also hide some features on kid’s channels, such as “likes” and notifications that could influence children’s usage. Content creators will also be required to specify whether their content is for children. And YouTube said it will use artificial intelligence to identify videos that target children with markers such as toys, kids’ characters or games.
“We’ll continue working with lawmakers around the world in this area, including as the FTC seeks comments on COPPA,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in the corporate blog post. “And in the coming months, we’ll share details on how we’re rethinking our overall approach to kids and families, including a dedicated kids experience on YouTube.”
The settlement follows a complaint filed in April with the FTC by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy and 18 other privacy and consumer-protection groups, asking the federal agency to crack down on YouTube’s data collection practices for kids.
YouTube is the best-known brand among kids aged 6 to 12, beating out the Disney Channel, McDonald’s and Lego, according to an eMarketer study. The study also estimated that nearly half of kids aged under 11 watch the platform.
Josh Golin, executive director at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, commended the settlement for targeting behavioral advertising, which he called the “most insidious form of advertising” for children who are cognitively ill-equipped to contend against algorithms from tech giants like Google tracking their online behavior.
But he and other consumer-protection groups said the $170 million fine is not large enough to deter future violations at YouTube, which generated $4 billion last year just on advertising revenue, according to the Consumer Federation of America. Critics also said the settlement places too much of the burden of compliance on content creators, instead of requiring Google and YouTube to police their own platform.
“This lack of accountability is inexcusable, especially since the FTC has a clear authority under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act to enforce children’s privacy rights,” Susan Brown, director of consumer protection and privacy at the CFA, said in a statement. “It’s like having a school playground with no one responsible for watching the kids and making sure the equipment is safe.”
Under the settlement, YouTube is only required to notify creators if their channels target children. Channels are not allowed to track user information for children without parent consent, and kids cannot comment on videos without parent consent.
Golin from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood suggested that YouTube could additionally move all content for children to YouTube Kids, creating a supervised “walled garden” for kid-friendly content.
Nintendo is adding paid memberships to Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
Nintendo plans to launch paid subscription memberships for its smartphone game Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp later this week, according to an in-game news update. The company says one plan lets you “appoint one lucky animal as your camp caretaker and get some extra help around the campsite,” while with another you’ll “receive fortune cookies and store your furniture and clothing items in warehouses.”
Nintendo released its latest mobile game, Mario Kart Tour, last month with a surprising optional subscription: a $4.99-a-month “Gold Pass” that unlocks a faster speed mode and gives users access to more in-game items. The company says it will reveal more information about the Animal Crossing memberships in videos that are due to be released on Wednesday.
Despite the hype surrounding Nintendo’s belated decision to start making smartphone games after years of pleas from investors, mobile remains a small part of the company’s overall business. Nintendo doesn’t break out specific mobile sales figures, but in its most recent earnings report said that first-half revenue for mobile and IP licensing totaled 19.9 billion yen. which is up 6.4 percent year-on-year but represents less than five percent of the company’s overall sales.
“[Mario Kart Tour] earnings are also off to a good start,” president Shuntaro Furakawa told investors at the financial results briefing after commenting on the game’s download figures. “In addition to randomized items, we have created opportunities to generate revenue such as the Gold Pass subscription to meet the various needs of consumers, allowing them to enjoy the game. By including these mechanics and multiplayer functionality, we want to make it an attractive application that will be enjoyed by consumers in the long-term.”
Nintendo’s mobile games have been hit and miss in terms of both their quality and their financial performance, but if subscriptions are a model that turns out to work, you can expect to see more of them in future titles.
By Sam Byford
Web & Domain Protection Software Market SWOT Analysis by Key Players: Leaseweb, Namecheap, SiteLock, Verisign, Sucuri
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Global Web & Domain Protection Software Market by Key Players: ZeroFOX, Comodo, Domain.com, GoDaddy, Register.com, Leaseweb, Namecheap, SiteLock, Verisign, Sucuri, Cloudflare, Pointer Brand Protection, Sasahost, WebARX, AppRiver, Rebel.com
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Chapter 12 Conclusions & Appendix
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BY SYLVIA SANCHEZ
Social networks have been weaponized for the impeachment hearings
Impeachment hearings got underway in the House of Representatives this week, as you likely noticed from the wall-to-wall coverage. The process involves the sort of high-stakes, highly partisan events that naturally dominate social feeds. What television was to impeachment in the 1970s and 1990s, Facebook and Twitter — and YouTube and maybe TikTok — will be to impeachment in 2019.
The hearings on President Donald Trump’s apparent attempted bribery of Ukraine won’t be the first time a president has had to contend with, or benefit from, a hyper-partisan media. Conservative talk radio and Fox News were in full swing when Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, even if their rhetoric looks quaint by today’s standard. But the World Wide Web was in its infancy, and the world was then still innocent of algorithmically sorted news feeds, partisan bot armies, and state-sponsored meme warfare.
Not anymore. If the first day of hearings is any indication, social networks promise to play a powerful role in shaping the way that impeachment hearings are understood by Americans. They are also playing a powerful role in shaping the hearings themselves.
As Ryan Broderick documented at BuzzFeed, Republican lawmakers used their time during Wednesday’s hearing to promote discredited conspiracy theories that are popular on right-wing message boards:
There is one America that believes what was in former FBI director Robert Mueller’s report, that there was coordinated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which helped the Trump campaign. But there is a second America that believes that in the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee colluded with Ukrainian nationals to frame the Trump campaign for collusion with Russia, implicating a Ukrainian American DNC contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, in the collusion and the California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in the subsequent cover-up.
This unfounded theory has been propped up by a 2017 Politico story; reporting from right-wing political commentator John Solomon published earlier this year in the Hill; Attorney General Bill Barr’s summer travels; the yearlong personal investigation into Ukraine conducted by Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer working for Trump; and coverage from Fox News and conservative news sites. All of that came into play during Wednesday’s hearing, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly.
After Republican members of Congress promoted these various smokescreens, right-wing media universally dismissed the hearing — either as an absurd exercise led by clowns, or as an outrageous abuse of power. Brian Stelter described the atmosphere on cable news:
Here’s what else I heard: Wednesday’s hearing was a bust. It was all just hearsay. It was a “disaster” for the Democrats and a “great day” for the Republicans. Impeachment is “stupid.” Impeachment is “fake.” There’s nothing impeachable here. There’s no reason to hold hearings. This inquiry needs to stop right now.
The message was one-sided and overwhelming. Every host and practically every guest said the Republican tribe is winning and the Democrat tribe is losing. I’m sure the president loved watching every minute of it. That’s one of the reasons why this right-wing rhetoric matters so much — because it is reassuring and emboldening Trump.
Meanwhile, if you’re reading the New York Times or watching CNN, you’re getting the sense that the case against Trump is a slam dunk, with multiple people having heard the president directly pressure his ambassador to the European Union to pursue a bribery plot. As Ezra Klein wrote recently, this impeachment is “the easiest possible test case for can our system hold a president accountable.” And yet with something like 40 percent of the country living in an alternate media universe, the basic, actual facts of the case may never penetrate into their reality.
Of course, that fear was one of the best reasons for Democrats to initiate impeachment proceedings in the first place: Show people real witnesses answering important questions over a long enough period of time — train everyone’s eyes on the same set of facts — and maybe a greater consensus will emerge.
Time will tell if they succeed. In the meantime, impeachment has proven to be big business on Facebook — where politicians are taking out highly partisan ads consistent with their respective worldviews. Emily Stewart and Rani Molla have a thorough walkthrough of how impeachment is playing out on Facebook, with Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren using ads to fire up their base and build their donor rolls; Tom Steyer using impeachment as a signature issue to promote his presidential candidacy; and a spice company buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of pro-impeachment advertising because they spread farther on Facebook than non-impeachment ads, resulting in a better return on investment.
Much of the debate about whether Facebook should allow political advertising noted that it represents a small fraction of the company’s business. But as the Vox writers note, that doesn’t mean it’s an insignificant business:
Facebook itself has grown into a formidable political platform in recent years, with campaigns and outside groups spending $284 million on the platform during the midterm elections, according to a report by Tech for Campaigns, a nonprofit that helps political campaigns with digital tools. While that’s just a small share of Facebook’s overall ad revenue, it’s a growing chunk of what campaigns are spending to reach constituents.
As impeachment hearings intensify, it seems likely politicians’ spending on Facebook ads will increase. And a good number of those ads, like so much about impeachment in 2019, will seem to have been created in a parallel world. In many ways, they were.
read more theverge.com
By Casey Newton
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