Social media companies have been urged to stop targeting adverts at children after Google was hit by a £2.5bn privacy claim this week.
Google is the subject of a legal claim from Duncan McCann, a father of three, filed in the high court this week by the law firm Hausfeld.
The claim argues that Google is violating the privacy rights of people aged under 18 by collecting their data and using it to profile them for advertising. If a person under the age of 13 uses Google-owned YouTube, they could have their data collected and processed.
Google says that under 13s should not use YouTube and has an app, YouTube Kids, that includes adverts without any targeting that they can use instead.
But Mr McCann, who is represented by the law firm that has successfully brought multi-billion pound competition claims against Google, argues his children’s data has been collected and processed illegally when they use YouTube. GDPR laws say only children over 13 are able to provide consent for data collection.
In a separate letter, also signed by Mr McCann, academics, charities and Green party leader Caroline Lucas have urged technology giants to voluntarily stop collecting data on under 18s.
While advertising to children between the age of 13 and 18 is not illegal, the signatories argue that “behavioural advertising undermines children’s privacy”.
The letter says: “Our concerns extend beyond the very young, and beyond issues of privacy. Children of all ages are more susceptible to the pressures of marketing, less likely to recognise paid-for content, and less likely to understand how and what kinds of data are used for these purposes than adults.
“That’s why we are calling for an end to behavioural ads to those individuals platforms know are – or are identified as – under 18. There is no justification for targeting teenagers with personalised ads any more than there is for targeting 12-year-olds.”
A Google spokesperson said that it blocks advertisers from targeting adverts at users under the age of 13 and offers its YouTube Kids service so children can watch videos without advert targeting. Google has previously said YouTube should not be used by childen.
The letter was addressed to advertisers Google and Facebook, iPhone maker Apple, online retailer Amazon and software company Microsoft.
In the legal claim, filed on Monday, Mr McCann’s lawyers say the case is being brought on behalf of the estimated 5 million UK users of YouTube under the age of 13. The representative claim allows the action to be brought on behalf of multiple people, Hausfeld said.
The claimants add that their action has been given added weight by previous investigations by US authorities. Last year, Google was forced to pay $170m to settle a case brought by the US Federal Trade Commission for collecting digital “cookies” on children in the US.