COPPA KILLED THE VIDEO STAR: How the Youtube Settlement Shows that COPPA Does More Harm Than Good

An Article by Stephen Beemsterboer

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The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998[1] (“COPPA”) purportedly protects children on the internet,[2] but the reality is that the law is woefully ineffective at this goal and yet terribly burdensome for website operators (and now, people who upload silly videos to YouTube).  The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), the agency tasked with enforcing COPPA,[3] announced a whopping $170 million settlement with YouTube in September 2019,[4] with a message that focused more on bragging about the unprecedented size of the financial sum than any tangible benefit the settlement would provide for the well-being of children on the internet.[5]  The settlement marks a shift in COPPA enforcement in which the FTC will begin targeting website users rather than the website itself.[6]

          [1].                        15 U.S.C. §§ 6501–05 (2018).

          [2].                        Anita L. Allen, Minor Distractions: Children, Privacy and E-Commerce, 38 Hous. L. Rev. 751, 767 (2001) (“COPPA was designed to protect the informational privacy of children and their families from excessive and unwanted disclosures of personal information.”).

          [3].                        15 U.S.C. § 6505(a) (“Except as otherwise provided, this chapter shall be enforced by the [Federal Trade] Commission under the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 41 et seq.).”).

          [4].                        Press Release, Fed. Trade Comm’n, Google and YouTube Will Pay Record $170 Million for Alleged Violations of Children’s Privacy Law (Sep. 4, 2019) [hereinafter Settlement Press Release],

          [5].                        FTC Press Conference on Settlement with Google / YouTube, Fed. Trade Comm’n (Sep. 4, 2019) [hereinafter Press Conference], (“The $170 million judgment is thirty times larger than the largest COPPA civil penalty the FTC has ever previously obtained. It is three times larger than any privacy penalty assessed against Google anywhere else in the world. And it is ten times larger than the civil penalties we have obtained in all of our thirty-one prior COPPA cases combined.”).

          [6].                        The FTC notes that this is the first time a platform has been liable for the content its users post, but, as a result of the settlement holding YouTube liable as a platform, the FTC will begin directly targeting YouTube users. Id.