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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Concern about kids' use of YouTube has long been simmering. It bubbled over yesterday, with reports on a "late stage" FTC inquiry and initiatives within the company to revamp its policies.

Why it matters: YouTube is widely used by kids, and most of their viewing happens on the main site, even though its dedicated YouTube Kids site provides more protections.

Background: Some critics say YouTube is violating the children's privacy protections of a 1998 law known as the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA.

  • Others are concerned about what happens when kids watch content on the main YouTube site and what types of adult content they may be exposed to.

Driving the news:

  • The Wall Street Journal reported that YouTube was considering a range of changes, including the possibility of moving all its child-oriented content out of the main YouTube service and into YouTube Kids.
  • The Washington Post reported that the FTC is "in the late stages of an investigation into YouTube" for violations of COPPA and other laws governing online services for children.
  • This follows complaints from a number of public interest groups alleging YouTube failed to live up to COPPA's requirements.

What they're saying: In statements emailed to Axios...

  • YouTube declined to comment on the FTC inquiry. As for the WSJ report, YouTube said, "We consider lots of ideas for improving YouTube and some remain just that — ideas. Others, we develop and launch, like our restrictions to minors live-streaming or updated hate speech policy."
  • Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who asked the FTC about potential violations last year: "It is no secret that kids flock to YouTube every day, but the company has yet to take the necessary steps to protect its youngest users."
  • EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg: "EPIC and other consumer advocates have long argued that the data collection practices violate COPPA."
  • However, Rotenberg notes that there have been multiple news reports in recent months about the FTC being in the "late stages" on important investigations that still haven't surfaced.

The big picture: YouTube's children's policies are just one of many areas of controversy for the company. Other concerns include hate speech, harassment, the promotion of conspiracy theories, and whether its recommendation algorithm pushes users toward extreme content.

Meanwhile:

  • Axios' Sara Fischer reported last week that advertisers seeking to reach children have been moving away from YouTube amid privacy concerns.
  • State regulators have also been more active. According to a PwC report, the FTC was generally on its own enforcing protections until 2018. But, the report says, in the last two years "individual state attorney generals (e.g. NY and New Mexico) have initiated separate actions. In parallel, civil class actions have been filed alleging collection of kids' data from apps and games."

Our thought bubble: YouTube is unlikely to move all its kids' content into YouTube Kids — as many children turn their noses up at anything labeled "for kids." But YouTube could limit the kinds of advertising that can be attached to children's programming on the main site or take other similar actions.

The bottom line: Children's issues have a way of winning serious attention and action from politicians and regulators more speedily than those affecting adults.

Go deeper: Why YouTube needs principles

Go deeper

40 mins ago - Health

U.S. ahead of pace on vaccines

A health care worker administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine in Ruleville, Mississippi. Photo: Rory Doyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. is now vaccinating an average of 2 million people a day, up from 1.3 million in early February.

Why it matters: That puts us on track to hit President Biden's goal of 100 million doses a month ahead of schedule.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Harris breaks tie as Senate proceeds with lengthy debate on COVID relief bill

Photo: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Senate on Thursday voted 51-50 — with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie — to proceed to debate on President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, likely setting up a final vote this weekend.

The state of play: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is forcing the Senate clerk to read the entire 628-page bill on the floor, a procedural move that will likely add 10 hours to the 20 hours already allotted for debate.

3 hours ago - World

Netanyahu campaigns against Biden's plan to save Iran deal

Netanyahu campaigns at a gym last month. Photo: Pool/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indirectly criticized the Biden administration for its intention to return to the Iran nuclear deal and told his supporters he was prepared to "stand against the entire world" to stop it.

Why it matters: This is a major change of tune for Netanyahu, who had been careful in his statements on the Iran deal and avoided publicly criticizing President Biden. The statement was part of Netanyahu's attempt to rally his base ahead of Israel's election on March 23.