YouTube's Controversial Ad Practices on Kids’ Channels

Dan Nicholson

YouTube's advertising techniques could have inadvertently led to tracking children online. An advertisement for BMO, a Canadian bank, targeting Canadian adults appeared on a kids' channel. This would be a potential breach of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

YouTube and Google’s Privacy Violations:

In 2019, YouTube and Google faced a $170 million penalty over charges of illegally gathering children’s data. They then committed to curbing data collection and ending personalized ads on children’s content.

Recently, Research from Adalytics reveals that various brands’ ads targeted at adults were found on nearly 100 YouTube videos marked “made for kids.” If viewers clicked these ads tracking software tagged their browsers as well and some of the ads included violent content.

Response from Authorities:

U.S. senators are urging the Federal Trade Commission (F.T.C.) to probe Google and YouTube for potential COPPA violations. They suspect Google of serving targeted ads to kids without the necessary parental consent.

Advertising Challenges for Brands

Google's Perspective:

Google defends its stance, explaining that adult ads on children's videos might attract parents. The company noted that these ads are based on content, not user profiles. Google also stated that it has no control over data collection after a user clicks an ad.

Advertisers' Struggle:

Brands find it challenging to prevent their ads from displaying on children’s content. Many believe that YouTube's practices might be jeopardizing children’s privacy. Google claims they provide brands an option to block their ads from children’s content.

The Tracking Controversy

Adalytics research also discovered that Google placed persistent cookies on kids' videos, potentially for tracking. Google, however, said such cookies are only for COPPA-permitted business operations.

Industry Responses and Implications

YouTube has been criticized for the usage of "persistent identifiers" which facilitate targeted ads on channels for children. COPPA stipulates the need for “verifiable parental consent” before using minors' information. Adalytics' research suggests YouTube's ad practices contravene this rule.

Other Brands Implicated:

Several big-name brands, including Mars, Netflix, Apple, and Ford were found to be advertising on “made for kids” channels.

Takeaways for Entrepreneurs:

  1. Prioritize Ethical Standards: Beyond mere compliance, place ethics at the core of your advertising strategies. This fosters trust and solidifies brand integrity.
  1. Be Proactive in Ad Placement Monitoring: In the age of automated ad placements, regularly reviewing and adjusting where your ads appear is crucial. This proactive approach can prevent potential pitfalls and reputational damage.
  1. Champion Transparency: In an era where data privacy and protection are paramount, championing transparency can differentiate your brand and build lasting relationships with your target audience.


Navigating the complexities of digital advertising platforms like YouTube is no simple task. The recent controversy surrounding YouTube's ad practices on kids' channels underscores the critical importance of due diligence, compliance, and ethics in all online marketing endeavors.


New York Times


Dan Nicholson is the author of “Rigging the Game: How to Achieve Financial Certainty, Navigate Risk and Make Money on Your Own Terms,” deemed a best-seller by USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. In addition to founding the award-winning accounting and financial consulting firm Nth Degree CPAs, Dan has created and run multiple small businesses, including Certainty U and the Certified Certainty Advisor program.

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