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.
Paris tests new bubble-shaped water taxi
Paris is testing out a new form of travel: an eco-friendly bubble-shaped taxi that zips along the water up and down the Seine River.
Organizers are holding test runs this week on one white, oval-shaped electric hydrofoil boat that resemble tiny space shuttles gliding past Paris monuments.
The boats can fit four passengers, and if they get approved, can be ordered on an app like land taxis, shared bikes or other forms of transport.
Its designers hope to run the so-called Seabubbles commercially in Paris and other cities starting next year.
Anders Bringdal, SeaBubbles CEO, told The Associated Press that “the most important for us is no noise, no waves, no pollution. And bring them into cities that are congested.”
Bringdal said the water taxi will “not only be fun” but also makes economic sense.
“If you compare a similar size boat with an engine, you are going to run 30, 40, 50 euros an hour in fuel cost when this one costs you 3 dollars or 3 euros,” he said.
Proponents see the vehicle as a new model for the fast-changing landscape of urban mobility.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Google Fi launches a more traditional unlimited plan
Google is announcing a new plan for its MVNO Fi cell service: Unlimited. Like the big four carriers in the US, Google apparently feels the need to use the word “Unlimited” next to its service, whether or not it means what you think it means.
For Google, it means that a single line costs $70 for everything, two are $60 apiece, three are $50 apiece, and you can have four to six at $45 per line. The caveats — and there are always caveats with unlimited plans — is that Google “may optimize” video streaming down to 480p and will also throttle data for any single user that goes over 22GB per month. (You can pay $10 per GB if you want un-throttled data over 22GB.)
Google is also tying its new Unlimited plan to Google One, another service that hasn’t taken off in the popular imagination. Google says that the Unlimited plan comes with a Google One membership, which would save you the $1.99 per month it costs for the 100GB cloud storage tier.
But though that sounds complicated, it’s conceptually easier (at least in the US) than Google Fi’s previous plan — which is still sticking around but is now called “Flex.” Under that plan, it is $20 for the phone line, $15 for each additional line, and $10/GB for any and all data used. For a lot of customers, it could end up being much cheaper than other plans — though heavy data users could sometimes run into higher costs. Still, Google capped data costs at $60 per month.
The Flex plan is actually a really great deal for certain customers, but it meant that their bill could have wild swings from month to month depending on data usage. Google wanted something conceptually easier for US customers, the ones who have been seeing every other carrier offer Unlimited plans.
Both the Unlimited and Flex plans will allow customers to order free “data-only” SIM cards that draw from the same data buckets with no additional monthly charge. Most other US carriers charge a monthly fee for adding such devices, which makes Google Fi one of the best choices for people who love using LTE-enabled version of gadgets.
Fi also is popular with international travelers, as it doesn’t charge any extra fees for data when roaming, though it does $0.20 per minute for calls. Fi also offers a free VPN to Android users, to protect them on sketchy Wi-Fi networks.
Add all that up and Google Fi is one of the better deals in wireless, with bonus features that are actually relevant to wireless service instead of corporate media TV tie-ins. That hasn’t been enough to get it widespread usage, but maybe the new, easier-to-understand unlimited plans will give Fi a boost.
Voyage Auto raises $31 million to expand self-driving technology
Voyage Auto Inc, the self-driving-car start-up, has just completed $31 million in Series B fundraising, which brings its total capital raised to $52 million.
Founded in 2017 by MacCallister Higgins and Oliver Cameron, Voyage’s mission to “build technology that brings self-driving cars to those that need it most” has attracted financial partnerships with Chevron Technology Venture, Jaguar Land-Rover’s InMotion Ventures, and Khosla Ventures. Franklin Templeton Investments led the Series B round of fundraising.
“Since investing in the company’s Series A in 2018, it’s been fantastic to watch the business go from strength to strength. They’ve shown us that they have the capability to quickly make self-driving, autonomous taxis in residential communities a reality, sooner than anyone would have thought,” said Sebastian Peck, Managing Director of Jaguar Land-Rover’s InMotion Ventures.
The Palo Alto, California-based start-up known for its self-driving taxi services in retirement communities has expanded its presence to Florida, where the cars navigate complex communities and deliver passengers to their doors at a maximum of 25 mph. While retirement communities have provided a controlled baseline to deploy their services, Voyage does not plan to stop there.
Voyage will use the funds to grow its talent base, expand the fleet of G2 model (Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan), prepare to introduce the G3 model, and further develop its technology towards commercialization. Also, with this additional support, Voyage cars will be able to increase its speed in neighborhoods with a progressively more complex network of streets.
Voyage engineers have made significant strides in the safe-critical middleware, prediction systems, as well as its high-definition map navigation.
Since 2018, Voyage’s talent base has grown 300 percent. Voyage hired former Uber and Tesla employee Drew Gray as its Chief Technology Officer. David Bacchet, the company’s new Director of Autonomy, brings experience from Apple SPG and Tesla. Voyage has begun hiring for engineering, operations and leadership positions to maximize its expertise base.
The robo-taxi industry is projected to be worth $2 trillion by 2030, based on a thorough New York City simulation conducted by UBS Evidence Lab.
“The current number of taxis operating in New York alone could be cut by two-thirds once cars are fully autonomous,” the report said.
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