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YouTube wants changes to kids' privacy law that sparked its record fine

YouTube videos aimed at kids shouldn't always have strict privacy protections that limit ads, the company says.

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James Martin/CNET

Three months ago, Google's YouTube was hit by a record $170 million penalty and major new kids-privacy rules. Now YouTube wants the US government to loosen how much its massive video service is subject to that child privacy law. 

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, shouldn't require YouTube to presume that everyone watching kids-directed videos is a child if YouTube can confirm the viewer is actually an adult, YouTube said late Monday in a blog post describing its comment to the US Federal Trade Commission. Currently, YouTube must have stricter privacy protections on kids-directed videos regardless of whether a child or an adult is the viewer. 

Because of that rule, YouTube must prohibit personalized advertising -- its main revenue generator -- on all kids-directed videos. It was one of the sweeping changes required by an FTC crackdown on how YouTube's massive video site treats the privacy of children's data.

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YouTube also asked for COPPA to have clearer guidance about what defines a video as "directed to children," as well as "balanced and clear guidelines" for uploaders who may be subject to COPPA rules without fully understanding them. 

YouTube is the world's biggest online video source, with 2 billion monthly users, and a huge number of its billions of videos viewed on the site are aimed at kids. One study suggests kids content may be the most-watched video category on YouTube overall. But YouTube has come under fire for a range of scandals involving children, including videos of child abuse and exploitation, nightmarish content in its YouTube Kids app and predatory comments that sexualized clips of young children. 

In September, the FTC hit YouTube with major new privacy requirements and a record $170 million penalty to settle its probe into the data YouTube collects on its giant video site without parents' consent. It's the largest penalty ever levied for COPPA violations. 

The settlement made YouTube limit the data it collects on kids-video viewing to the bare minimum. YouTube halted kids-oriented videos from having personalized ads, comments and notifications, and YouTube is now requiring that uploaders disclose when their videos are directed at children. 

Monday, YouTube said it "strongly support[s] COPPA's goal of providing robust protections for kids and their privacy." 

"We also believe COPPA would benefit from updates and clarifications that better reflect how kids and families use technology today, while still allowing access to a wide range of content that helps them learn, grow and explore," it said in the post. 

The FTC didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment. 

YouTube's comment to the FTC was submitted as part of a months-long public feedback period the commission is holding for COPPA.