A campaign group is suing Google for up to £2.5bn over claims that YouTube breaks EU data protection laws by harvesting information about children under 13 – and is hoping to turn it into a UK class-action-style case.
Duncan McCann, backed by the Foxglove privacy campaign group and a slew of other organisations, alleges that YouTube broke the EU General Data Protection Regulation and the UK's Data Protection Act 2018, as well as committing breaches of confidence and misusing private information.
In a particulars of claim filed at London's High Court and seen by The Register, McCann said Google "failed to obtain valid parental consent for the processing of personal data of children under 13 years of age, as required by law".
Five million children are said to have been affected by Google's alleged actions, with each child potentially entitled to up to £500 if the case is successful. McCann seeks to have the case certified as a group litigation suit, the English law equivalent of a US class action.
Foxglove director Cori Crider said in a statement: "From dodgy 'kidfluencers' to toy unboxing videos, Google's drive to profit from kids' attention has turned corners of YouTube into a weird technicolored nightmare. This case isn't just about ads. The real price of YouTube's 'free' services is kids addicted, influenced, and exploited by Google. It's already unlawful to data-mine children under 13."
McCann also claims, through barrister Gerry Facenna QC, that Google's terms and conditions were not written in "clear and plain language" that children could understand – meaning kids had no idea what they were signing up to when they clicked past disclaimers to get onto the video-hosting website.
The breach of confidence is said to have occurred because Google knew it was harvesting data from children. That data being confidential, thanks to extra legal protections granted to under-13s, Google breached its confidentiality by flogging it to other adtech companies and data brokers.
Google Ireland Ltd is said to have denied that it is the data controller for YouTube's EU-based users, instead pointing at US parent company Google LLC. Google has acknowledged service of the case but is yet to file its formal defence.
It is relatively common for people trying to sue Google in the UK to trip up over precise details of which corporate subsidiary to file suit against. The difference between a UK or EU company and the US parent firm is that to sue the latter, you need formal permission from the court – a procedural hurdle that Google has vigorously contested in the past.
A spokesperson for YouTube sent us a 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." ®