YouTube still making money off adult ads on videos made for kids

A new report has found that advertisers are still tracking viewers of YouTube videos made for kids. In 2019, the Google-owned company promised to stop delivering personalized ads on these types of content.

YouTube said back in 2019 that the platform would “limit data collection and use on videos made for kids only to what is needed to support the operation of the service.”

However, according to Adalytics, an ad quality and transparency platform, YouTube appears to be setting or transmitting “advertising” cookies and identifiers on the devices of viewers who are watching “made for kids” videos as of July 2023.

This means that the video platform is serving ads from many major Fortune 500 advertisers on YouTube channels, actually labeled as “made for kids.” In their report, Adalytics says that these include brands such as Mas, Procter & Gamble, Ford, Colgate-Palmolive, Samsung, and many others.

What’s more, these ad campaigns are personalized and urge the audience – in this case, minors watching content on, for example, popular YouTube channel “CoComelon Nursery Rhymes & Kids Songs” – to buy “adult” products.

The viewers of such videos appear to be clicking on ads. Brands’ websites – such as Disney, BMW, Verizon, and others – are then harvesting and sharing metadata on those viewers with dozens of data brokers.

Dozens of major ad tech and data broker companies are receiving data from viewers of “made for kids” YouTube videos who clicked on an ad, Adalytics says.

These include several companies – such as Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and OpenX – who paid penalties for COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law that imposes specific requirements on operators of websites and online services to protect the privacy of children under 13..

US senators Edward Markey, a Democrat, and Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, are already seeking a formal inquiry into YouTube for breaching COPPA laws. Senator Markey actually authored the landmark bill back in 1998.

“This behavior by YouTube and Google is estimated to have impacted hundreds of thousands, to potentially millions, of children across the United States,” the senators wrote in their letter to Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan.

“YouTube and Google cannot continue treating young people’s data as an unprotected commodity from which to profit with abandon.”

Google’s own Advertising Policies 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.”

Many advertisers have indeed reported that they do not want their ads served on videos made for kids. However, these media buyers report that Google’s software controls make it very difficult if not impossible to completely avoid it.

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