Global litigation funder Vannin Capital is bankrolling a new legal action brought in the UK High Court against YouTube, which alleges that the Google-owned video streaming service is breaching millions of young peoples’ privacy and data rights.

The claim – brought in the UK High Court on behalf of more than 5 million British children aged under 13 and their parents – alleges that YouTube’s methods of targeting underage audiences constitute major breaches of privacy and data rules, including the UK Data Protection Act and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), both of which were designed to protect citizens’ control over their own private information.

Affected children and parents, on whose behalf the claim is brought are being told they will not pay costs or fees to participate in this legal action: because it is being funded by Vannin Capital the claim is insured, meaning claimants have no financial risk in relation to the claim.

The claimants are represented by Hausfeld & Co LLP, and Gerry Facenna QC and Nik Grubeck of Monckton Chambers. Foxglove serves as co-counsel.

It is alleged that YouTube has systematically broken privacy laws by harvesting children’s data without obtaining prior parental consent.

The website ‘has no practical user age requirements and makes no adequate attempt to limit usage by youngsters’, according to the legal action. This is strongly denied by YouTube, which says that the streaming service is not for children under 13 and that is launched YouTube Kids for younger children.

The claim alleges that although YouTube says it doesn’t target underage viewers, in reality its popularity with British children is today unrivalled even by mainstream TV channels. The UK media regulator Ofcom reported earlier this year that three-quarters of 5-15 year olds watch it, and half of 3-4 year olds.

Bringing this representative action is Duncan McCann, a father of three children aged 13 or under and a researcher into the emerging digital economy. A representative claim is a claim brought by a person on their own behalf and on behalf of other individuals who have the same interest. Mr McCann claims that his children’s personal data has been collected and processed illegally by Google while they viewed video content on YouTube.

The class size of 5 million children has been identified using Ofcom’s recent finding that 50% of children in England and Wales aged 3-4 years old and 90% of children aged 12 years old use YouTube’s main service. If the representative action is successful, then Google could owe affected children and parents more than £2 billion.

Parents who are interested in registering themselves and their children as claimants should visit https://www.youtubedataclaim.co.uk/, which also contains further information about the claim.

Last year, Google paid $170 million to settle a claim by the Federal Trade Commission  (FTC) and the New York Attorney General that YouTube had violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Lesley Hannah, Partner at Hausfeld & Co LLP, who is leading the litigation, said: “Privacy and data protection laws are there to protect everyone; not least children, who, unquestionably, deserve a higher level of protection. Yet, YouTube operates in a way that breaks those laws. Google needs to be held to account and pay compensation to all families who use YouTube in England and Wales.”

Children who have used YouTube in the period since 25 May 2018 and who were throughout that period (i) resident in England and Wales and (ii) under 13 years old, and their parents, will automatically be included within the class.

A YouTube spokesperson told Legal IT Insider: “We don’t comment on pending litigation. YouTube is not for children under the age of 13. We launched the YouTube Kids app as a dedicated destination for kids and are always working to better protect kids and families on YouTube.”