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Kids vs YouTube court case - an environmental breakthrough?


by Oliver Hayes,  

Policy and Campaigns Lead 

Member of  the Consultative Council advising Duncan McCann in the case

4 min read



Global Action Plan is advising a ground-breaking lawsuit which aims to force YouTube to stop spying on children under 13 and to compensate millions of underage users.


The case - the first in Europe against a tech firm on behalf of children, and among the largest data actions to date – alleges that Google has unlawfully datamined millions of children by profiling kids under 13 on its video streaming service YouTube.


Put simply, Google is accused of gathering young kids’ data on YouTube without their informed consent. 


Why? Because that data is central to YouTube’s enormous advertising revenue.


Watch our recorded webinar featuring Duncan McCann


Data lawsuit could be green win

If successful, the case would be a milestone victory for advancing child privacy protections online. But it could be an environmental breakthrough, too.


While kids may not have direct buying power, their influence over family spending is huge. In 2011 it was estimated that over $1 trillion of US family spending was driven by children.


Excessive advertising is bad for the environment because it drives our desires for new trends by making our old possessions seem dull, disappointing and out of date.


This process starts in childhood - the €20.36 billion toy industry is built on cheap, bright toys that quickly end up as landfill when the next “must have” toy comes along.


Short lifecycles not only contribute to waste pollution but also makes little use of the resources, emissions and destruction of habitats needed to create the product in the first place.


And the influence of marketing to kids extends well beyond childhood. Marketers have known for decades that capturing a child early means years of brand loyalty.


Targeted advertising

Should YouTube stop tracking under 13s – the ultimate aim of the new lawsuit - it would become effectively impossible to serve them targeted ‘behavioural’ advertising.


That would be great news for kids. Targeted advertising is deeply exploitative. Psychological studies indicate that young children struggle to distinguish ‘regular’ videos from ads, and can be deeply influenced by what they see.


And it would be great news for parents. Less targeted ads to kids would mean less pressure to consume, easing pressure on families who in 2020 face economic challenges like never before.


A reduction in manipulative ads could also have real climate and nature benefits in the context of soaring consumption emissions.


And it could be transformational for children’s wellbeing, liberating kids from the barrage of ads invoking unachievable visions of perfection, status or wealth.


Because advertising doesn’t just compel us to buy stuff we don’t need – it also requires us to buy into the idea that owning more possessions is an important goal to aspire to, and that spending money on more material things will improve our lives.


Decades of research demonstrate that the more we aspire towards materialistic goals, the more likely we are to have lower wellbeing, including higher rates of anxiety, depression, loneliness, lower self-esteem and higher levels of debt.


YouTube #1 for kids

There should be little doubt about the value Google places on kids’ data. Google touted YouTube’s popularity with kids to advertisers for years. In pitch materials to toy makers Mattel (who make Barbie) and Hasbro (who make My Little Pony and Play-Doh), Google boasted that YouTube was ‘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 favourite website of kids 2-12.’


Although YouTube claims not to target underage viewers, its popularity with British kids has long eclipsed traditional TV. The UK media regulator Ofcom reported this year that three-quarters of 5-15 year olds watch it, and half of 3-4 year olds.


A disturbing video ecosystem has flourished on YouTube around the market in kids’ attention.

YouTube’s algorithms are geared to ‘maximise engagement’ – to keep kids hooked on the platform longer (because more time on the platform means more ads served, and more profit for Google). In an effort to ‘win’ the race for engagement and make ad money, content producers upload increasingly bizarre and addictive videos to YouTube. This has led to the rise of ‘kidfluencers’, ‘surprise eggs’, and ‘unboxing’ videos, all of which garner millions of views on YouTube and which are plainly aimed at children.


Join the campaign to Stop Targeted Advertising to Kids

We will not get on track to a 1.5 degree world or anywhere close without taking on the systemic pressure we all face to consume.


That’s why Global Action Plan wants to collaborate with a range of organisations to Stop Targeted Advertising to Kids. We think all websites and apps popular with children should:

· Comply with the law and stop datamining under 13s

· Turn off behavioural advertising to under 18s

· Limit ads to no more than 10% of social media content


To find out more, sign up for our campaign newsletter and join our ‘Kids for Sale? Children & Digital Advertising’ webinar on Tuesday 15 September, at which Duncan McCann, the man at the heart of the new lawsuit, will speak.