A recent research report from Adalytics, supplemented by information from CyberNews, has raised concerns about YouTube advertising practices, particularly in relation to content made for children. The study suggests that despite YouTube's CEO's 2019 statement that the platform would “limit data collection and use on videos made for kids,” there are indications that YouTube might be setting or transmitting “advertising” cookies and identifiers on devices of viewers watching such content as of July 2023.
Furthermore, the platform was found to be serving ads from major brands like Mars, Procter & Gamble, Ford, and Samsung on channels labeled as “made for kids.” Notably, some of these ads were observed on popular children's channels like “ChuChu TV Nursery Rhymes & Kids Songs” and “CoComelon Nursery Rhymes & Kids Songs.”
Data Sharing Concerns
The report also highlights that viewers of “made for kids” videos who click on ads might have their data shared with numerous data brokers. Brands such as Michigan State Police, Disney, and Verizon are among those potentially sharing metadata on these viewers. This could lead to the possibility of brands having their first-party datasets “data poisoned” with information derived from young viewers.
Several major ad tech and data broker companies, including Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft, are reportedly receiving data from viewers of these videos. Some of these companies – notably Microsoft – have previously faced penalties related to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) violations.
Many advertisers have expressed their reluctance to have their ads displayed on “made for kids” videos. However, they report difficulties in completely avoiding such content due to Google's software controls. One media buyer was quoted in the Adalytics report, stating, “Despite leveraging Google's contextual category blocks… ads inevitably appear on made for kids content in campaign placement reporting in a frustrating game of whackamole.”
Google's Performance Max ad targeting algorithm seems to be placing ads of adult brands on “made for kids” YouTube channels. Additionally, Google and YouTube have been observed serving ads on such content for their own products, like YouTube Premium and Chrome Enterprise. This is concerning, especially when considering Google's Advertising Policies, which state that advertising on content made for kids may not use “any third party trackers or otherwise attempt to collect personal information without first obtaining parental consent.”
In 2019, YouTube faced allegations from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the State of New York for collecting children's personal information without parental consent, violating COPPA. The platform's owner, Google, settled the allegations by agreeing to pay $170 million. Google has responded to the report in a blog post, calling it “flawed” and “uninformative” while defending its practices:
“Whether you're in the YouTube Kids app, viewing made for kids content on YouTube or signed-in with a supervised account, we have strict policies on the type of ad content that we allow. While we allow advertising to support creators who make high-quality content for kids, these guidelines limit the types of products and services that can run next to their content. For example, we restrict ads for things like dating apps and food and beverage products, as well as ads with violent or graphic content. These restrictions are similar to what is employed by other industries, like television, who have their own guidelines for ad content that runs on kids channels or content.”