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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Google will pay $170 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint that its YouTube subsidiary illegally collected children's personal information, the agency announced Wednesday morning.

The big picture: The FTC touted the settlement, details of which had circulated widely last week, as a record-breaking penalty that would shape YouTube's future behavior. But critics — including the FTC's two Democratic commissioners — argued that both the size of the fine and accompanying new restrictions on the company's behavior don't go far enough to protect the public.

Details: The FTC found that YouTube's tracking of underage users violated provisions of the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) because the company failed to notify users of child-directed channels about the tracking and obtain parental consent.

  • Under a consent decree that is part of the settlement, YouTube will be required to build a system for "channel owners to identify their child-directed content" so YouTube can comply with COPPA rules.

What they're saying: "This settlement achieves a significant victory for the millions of parents whose children watch child-directed content on YouTube," FTC chairman Joseph Simons and commissioner Christine Wilson wrote in a release. "It also sends a strong message to children’s content providers and to platforms about their obligation to comply with the COPPA Rule. "

"We believe the significant monetary penalty, coupled with the far-reaching conduct relief, is almost certainly better than what we would achieve in litigation. Importantly, the relief for consumers is immediate, rather than after years of litigation."
— Simons and Wilson

The $170 million penalty "is almost 30 times higher than the largest civil penalty previously imposed under COPPA," Wilson notes.

Yes, but: That's still small compared with the tens of billions Google earns in revenue annually, and critics of the settlement argue that it won't serve as as real deterrent to the company and its peers.

  • Similar criticisms arose in July when the FTC announced its much larger $5 billion settlement with Facebook for privacy violations.
  • In a dissenting statement, commissioner Rohit Chopra argues: "The Commission repeats many of the same mistakes from the flawed Facebook settlement: no individual accountability, insufficient remedies to address the company’s financial incentives, and a fine that still allows the company to profit from its lawbreaking. The terms of the settlement were not even significant enough to make Google issue a warning to its investors."

What's next: The settlement, which also would conclude a parallel inquiry by New York state, must be approved by a Federal district court judge.

Go deeper: For tech giants, profits far outweigh fines

Go deeper

Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults

A vaccination center installed at the Barbara Chapel of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Photo: Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images

Austria's lower house of parliament voted on Thursday in favor of making COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory for most adults from next month.

Why it matters: The bill is expected to soon pass the upper house and be signed by President Alexander Van der Bellen in order for the law to take effect Feb. 1, per Reuters. It'd make Austria the first EU nation to impose such a sweeping mandate.

Hope King, author of Closer
Updated 4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Peloton pumps its brakes

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Peloton’s popularity is falling as swiftly as it shot up.

Why it matters: Not all pandemic habits stick around. Peloton's trajectory over the past two years exemplifies how challenging it's been for companies to gauge shifts in consumer demand — particularly in sectors heavily altered by the pandemic.

Mitch McConnell's remarks on Black voters raise ire

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a Capitol Hill news conference earlier this year. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been widely criticized for comments he made this week about Black American voters.

Driving the news: When asked by a reporter Wednesday about concerns among voters of color, McConnell said "the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, Black American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans."