19 December 2018

Pressure groups allege Google misleads children

Consumer, privacy and public health groups urge US regulators to investigate whether children are being endangered by Google deception.

A 102-page complaint has been filed with the Federal Trade Commission alleging Google’s Play store is harming kids by allowing apps that break privacy laws, contain adult content or include manipulative advertising in a section of its Play store designed for children.

Alleged misconduct

The complaint focuses on alleged misconduct under US laws and regulations, and is led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy, which have previously attacked Google’s approach to children. Earlier this year they asked the FTC to crack down on Google’s YouTube video site for alleged violations of children’s online privacy. Twenty other groups, including Consumer Action, Public Citizen and the US Public Interest Research Group, have joined in the latest complaint. Google issued a statement on its commitment to protecting children while they are online, including prohibiting targeted advertising at children under 13, stating ‘we take these issues very seriously and continue to work hard to remove any content that is inappropriately aimed at children from our platform.’

Past punishment

The FTC has punished both Google and Apple in the past for what it deemed to be child exploitation. In 2014, it reached a settlement requiring Google to refund $19 million for allowing apps distributed through its store to charge children for purchases made without parents’ consent. A similar agreement had required Apple to refund $32.5 million for in-app purchases made on iPhones, iPads and other devices without parents’ permission.