People have said that YouTube collects information about what children under 13 watch, which is against a UK law meant to protect children.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has received an official complaint from activist Duncan McCann (ICO).
He says that the site collects information about the videos kids watch, where they watch them, and what device they use.
YouTube said it had spent money to keep families safe.
It said that this meant that all content for children should be treated as if it were being viewed by a child, even if it was on an adult’s account.
“We are still committed to working with the ICO and other key stakeholders, like children, parents, and child protection experts, on this important work,” a spokesperson said.
Alphabet, a US tech giant and the parent company of Google, owns the platform.
The company has always said that its service is not for kids under the age of 13, and it has a separate app for kids called YouTube Kids as well as a “supervised experience” that needs parental permission.
Mr. McCann says that a lot of kids watch YouTube on family devices, where this information can be collected by default because the account is not set up as a child’s account.
His complaint is thought to be the first test of the ICO Children’s Code, which went into effect in 2020 and gave tech companies a year to follow it.
It says that children should have a high level of privacy by default and that design features shouldn’t be used to get them to give more information.
YouTube said at the time that it would stop videos from automatically playing and stop ads from targeting and personalizing children.
In 2021, Ofcom said that 89% of children in the UK between the ages of 3 and 17 used the video platform.
Firms that break the Children’s Internet Code can be fined a lot of money, just like when they break data protection laws.
The ICO said it would carefully think about the complaint.
Mr. McCann is acting on his own, but he works for the 5Rights Foundation, a group that has been pushing for the code.
“My favorite change that YouTube should make is that when you go to YouTube, they don’t collect or process any information you don’t need,” he said.
“The best way to make sure that they only get information from adults who have given their permission is to have a way for adults to sign up for tracking, recommendation systems, profiling, and targeted ads.”
He also said that he thought only “a small number” of users would choose to do that.
In 2019, a US government agency fined YouTube $170 million (£139 million) for breaking privacy laws about children.
This came after a similar claim that it was taking information from children under 13 without their parent’s permission.
Stephanie Hare, who wrote the book Technology is Not Neutral, said that YouTube didn’t say it was at fault, but it did pay the fine and change how it does business because of it.
“It was thought that anyone who watched content for children could be younger than 13. So it now collects much less information about that kind of content and doesn’t send personalized ads to people who watch it “she told me.
“The answer is in the toolbox; they just need to find it.”