YouTube pledged to change the way it treats children’s content, after parent Google agreed to pay $170 million to settle a probe into alleged violations of privacy law.

In a complaint, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the New York state attorney general claimed YouTube used cookies to track the browsing habits of viewers on its child-centric channels. It then used the information to sell targeted advertising, in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

FTC chairman Joe Simons said in a statement there was “no excuse” for such conduct.

“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients. Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids.”

Google will pay $136 million to the FTC in what is the regulator’s largest fine covering a COPPA violation in the law’s 21-year history. The remaining $34 million will be paid to New York state.

Platform changes
The search giant also agreed to overhaul its business practices, to better identify child-focused content and ensure COPPA compliance on YouTube.

YouTube said in a blog that within four months it will automatically limit the collection and use of data from users viewing children’s videos, and cease serving personalised adverts on such content entirely. Additionally, comments and notifications will no longer be available for children’s videos.

Content creators will be required to identify child-focused content, and it will use machine learning to classify additional videos which target young audiences.

YouTube said the changes will “allow us to better protect kids and families” on its platform. It plans to share additional “details on how we’re rethinking our overall approach to kids and families, including a dedicated kids experience on YouTube” in the coming months.

COPPA author Senator Edward Markey criticised the settlement, calling the fine a “drop in the bucket” for the tech giant and arguing the platform changes “fall well short of what is needed to turn YouTube into a safe and healthy place for kids”.