Recent research conducted by Adalytics has raised concerns about Google potentially tracking and targeting children with advertisements for adult products on YouTube through an AI-powered ad-targeting system.
Adalytics discovered that over 300 brands’ ads for adult products, such as cars, were displayed on 100 YouTube videos intended for kids. These ads were shown to users not signed in on Youtube and directed them to advertisers’ websites, which utilized tracking software from Google, Meta, Microsoft, and other companies.
One case highlighted by The New York Times involved ads for credit cards by BMO, a Canadian bank, being shown to a viewer in the United States while watching a Barbie-themed children’s video on the “Kids Diana Show” YouTube channel. Google’s “Performance Max” ad-targeting system, which utilizes artificial intelligence to identify ideal customers, was responsible for these placements.
These findings are alarming because gathering data from children under 13 for ad purposes without parental consent violates federal privacy law, notably the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
In response to Adalytics’ report, US Senators Marsha Blackburn and Edward J. Markey urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether Google and YouTube breached COPPA regulations. They expressed concerns that these actions could lead to the extensive collection and distribution of children’s data for ad targeting.
“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 stated.
A Google spokesperson, Michael Aciman, characterized Adalytics’ finding as “deeply flawed and misleading.” Although he didn’t deny that ads for adult products appeared on YouTube videos meant for children, he stated that such ads are useful because parents watching might become customers. Aciman clarified that Google doesn’t run personalized ads on children’s videos but rather bases ads on users’ previously viewed webpage content, which he asserts aligns with COPPA regulations.
Regarding data collection and tracking following ad clicks, Google indicated it lacks the ability to control this on a brand’s website. According to Aciman, user data can be collected even when users interact with ads on different websites.
In addition, yesterday, another Adalytics report covered Google refunding marketers amid poor-quality ads. Also, just last week, Google changed the name ‘In-Stream’ to ‘Skippable Ads’.