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YouTube Facing UK Group Action Data Protection Claim

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Tech giant YouTube is facing a group action claim in the UK over allegations that the Google-owned video sharing platform has violated various privacy and data protection laws. The class action claim, being brought by specialist non-profit international law Hausfeld and Foxglove, accuses YouTube of habitually breaching breaking European data protection laws by unlawfully targeting over four million under thirteen year-olds with addictive programming whilst also gathering their data for use in targeted advertisers.

EU law (under which the UK currently falls) contains very specific and stringent protections in the area of children’s data, limiting the age at which minors can legally consent to their data being processed (age 13 under the related UK Data Protection Act).
The suit is being brought by international law firm Hausfeld and Foxglove, a tech justice nonprofit, which says they’re seeking damages from YouTube of more than £2.5 billion (~$3.2 billion).

Hausfield and Foxglove are seeking in excess of $2.5bn in damages it what is the first such representative litigation brought against a technology giant on behalf of children. The claim is one of the largest such cases to date and comparable in size and scope to a group action claim lodged in August against Oracle in the U.K. which is alleging breaches of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR] laws in relation to website cookie tracking.

Millions May Benefit

If the case succeeds, millions of British households whose kids watch YouTube may be in line for damages payouts potentially worth hundreds of pounds each. Duncan McCann, a researcher on the digital economy and father of 3 under 13’s who watch YouTube and have their data collected and ads targeted at them by Google, is acting as a representative claimant in the case. In discussing the claim, McCann said:

My kids love YouTube, and I want them to be able to use it. But it isn’t ‘free’ — we’re paying for it with our private lives and our kids’ mental health. I try to be relatively conscious of what’s happening with my kids’ data online but even so it’s just impossible to combat Google’s lure and influence, which comes from its surveillance power. There’s a massive power imbalance between us and them, and it needs to be fixed.”

Hausfield and Foxglove have provided further information about the claim, highlighting specific parts of YouTube pitch materials intended for toy makers Mattel and Hasbro (and made public via an earlier FTC suit against Google) in which it says the platform described itself as “the new Saturday morning cartoons,” “the number one website visited regularly by kids,” “today’s leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels” and “unanimously voted as the favorite website of kids 2-12.”

YouTube is maintaining that the platform is not for under 13’s, pointing out the existence of YouTube Kids, a dedicated kids’ app it launched in 2015 to offer what it called a “safer and easier” space for children to discover “family-focused content,” to back up the claim. In reacting to the claim, YouTube has made the following statement:

We don’t comment on pending litigation. YouTube is not for children under the age of 13. We launched the YouTube Kids app as a dedicated destination for kids and are always working to better protect kids and families on YouTube.”

Last year, the US Federal Trade Commission reached a $170m settlement with Google to end an investigation by the regulator and the New York Attorney General into alleged collection of children’s personal information by YouTube without the consent of their parents. In the U.K. the challenge for those seeking damages for large-scale violations is there’s no direct equivalent to a U.S. class action. But last year’s appeals court ruling in the Safari bypass case has opened the door to representative actions. The court also said damages could be sought for a breach of the law without needing to prove pecuniary loss or distress, establishing a route to redress for consumers that’s now being tested by several cases.

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