There is a disturbing trend in taking place around internet services. A trend that is almost as disturbing as the previous trend.
A group of more than 20 advocacy groups filed a complaint with the FTC asking for an investigation into Google’s YouTube. The complaint alleges that Google is collecting data on children and violating the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). COPPA states that parents must give consent before data can be collected on children.
“Protecting kids and families has always been a top priority for us. We will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to CNN. “Because YouTube is not for children, we’ve invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app to offer an alternative specifically designed for children.”
The YouTube Kids app is an app made specifically for children, which Google states does not collect data on users, and is fully COPPA compliant. Why have a separate kids app? Because YouTube is not made for children. A YouTube account is a Google account, and the terms of service to obtain a Google account requires that the person be over the age of 13.
That, of course, does not mean that children aren’t using Google or YouTube. Of course they are. Anyone can view YouTube without signing in. Parents will sit their children in front of YouTube everyday to watch children’s videos. You cannot go to a store without seeing a child in a basket watching YouTube on their parent’s phone, or children under the age of 13 with their own phone that their parent’s have purchased and set up for them. This is of course the data collection which the complaint is about.
And there is the problem.
If a parent hands over their phone playing YouTube to their child, is that consent? If a parent purchases their 10 year old and android phone and sets them up an account, brushing away the question asking if the user is over the age of 13, is that consent? If Google has set it’s terms of service stating that a user has to be over the age of 13, and goes so far as to make a separate app that does not collect data for children, should they be somehow expected to know when those terms of services have been broken?
There is a disturbing trend taking place around internet services. A trend that is almost as disturbing as the previous trend. Let’s talk bout the latter before the former.
To me, the most disturbing thing that has taken place in recent years, has been a change in the method of monetization. More often than not, we, the user, are not charged for the services we use. To us, it seems that everything is free, and it’s gotten so bad, that user’s now expect this. Go to any review for any paid app in the app store and you will find people complaining that the app is not free. People now expect free services, while being completely and purposely ignorant of what that means.
Nothing in this world is free. Everything has a cost, and nothing, not even Google or Facebook, can grow with no income. They certainly cannot grow to the behemoths they have become. The fact of the matter is, the product that we use, comes with a cost, and that cost is data. In terms of Facebook, it’s data which Facebook will sell off, or sell access to as we’re currently seeing. In the case of Google, that data is used to be able to target advertising at users, and companies spend a lot of money with Google to advertise with this accuracy.
Regardless of people’s current mock shock, and manufactured outrage, this has not been a secret. It’s been known. This has been divulged in the terms of services for each of these companies, and while I doubt even one percent of the population stops and reads this information, you couldn’t go a week without a website, magazine, or news show doing a story on this fact. Watching current news, you’d think this is the world’s best kept secret. Except it’s not a secret, and never has been.
I don’t like data mining. In fact, I’m very against it. The fact that this seems to be the norm now, is extremely frustrating. But that has happened because people allowed it to. People preferred the free services at the cost of their personal information over services which come with a financial cost, and companies that follow that methodology, have become successful. While those that preferred to charge a fee, and ensure the user’s data remained their own, did not.
Now we have ran full force into this new disturbing trend. Of course, I’m talking about the mock shock and manufactured outrage that was mentioned earlier. It is what is gripping the nation, and the world, with the Facebook fiasco that has taken over the headlines. It’s what this complaint about YouTube is based on. Suddenly, people are upset that these companies are doing what they’ve told us they were doing all along. Suddenly, people are unhappy because they’ve heard a story of a few cases of how their data was used. User’s had no issue prior to this, being willfully ignorant of the end result of their service choices, but now they’re mad. Now they’re upset. Now they want the government to come in and stop the companies which the user’s helped grow. Even though the vast majority of those that are calling for this, are still using those services, and would balk at the idea of actually paying for them.
There needs to be a new trend in this internet age. A new trend that would be useful. That new trend would be user’s being personally accountable. User’s need to understand that we built these markets, we built these companies. We killed companies that weren’t trying to collect our data by refusing to pay the cost of development, and we enriched those companies that collect our data by using their services.
At the end of the day, we don’t fix these problems through regulations. Regulations will simply hurt. It will slow progress, make things more expensive, and put people that we don’t really want running our lives, running yet another aspect of our lives. We fix these problems ourselves. We choose what we use, and we choose what we support. If you don’t want your data used for things you don’t agree with, don’t use services that collect it to do just that. Walk away from companies you don’t trust, and walk with your wallets to those companies that you do.
Success should be determined by the market, not the government, and we, the users are that market.