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Under COPPA, how do I know if my channel is “directed to children”? Since the FTC and New York Attorney General announced their September 2019 settlement with YouTube for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule, we’ve heard that question from channel owners – sometimes called content creators. If you’re a channel owner who shares content on user-generated platforms like YouTube, read on for FTC staff guidance about the applicability of the COPPA Rule and how those covered by the Rule can comply with its requirements.

The FTC action against YouTube and Google

The lawsuit against YouTube and Google alleged that the companies illegally collected personal information from children, in violation of COPPA. According to the complaint, the companies collected that information from viewers of child-directed YouTube channels in the form of persistent identifiers that track users across the Internet, but didn’t notify parents and get their consent. To settle the case, YouTube and Google agreed to create a mechanism so that channel owners can designate when the videos they upload to YouTube are – to use the words of COPPA – “directed to children.” The purpose of this requirement is to make sure that both YouTube and channel owners are complying with the law.

A COPPA recap

That provision of the settlement has raised questions among content creators about how to determine if what they upload to YouTube or other platforms is “directed to children.” The answer requires a brief summary of some key COPPA provisions. Passed by Congress in 1998, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is a federal law that protects the privacy of children under 13. COPPA’s foundational principle is one that most people can agree on: Parents – not kids, companies, platforms, or content creators – should be in control when it comes to information collected from children online.

The FTC enforces the law through the COPPA Rule. In general, COPPA requires operators of commercial websites and online services that are directed to children (more about that in a minute) to provide notice and obtain verifiable parental consent before they collect personal information from kids under 13.

The COPPA Rule defines “personal information” to include obvious things like a child’s first and last name or home address, but that’s not all. Under COPPA, personal information also covers what are called persistent identifiers – behind-the-scenes code that recognizes a user over time and across different sites or online services. That could be an IP address or a cookie when it’s used to serve targeted ads. Keep in mind that an operator also might be collecting personal information through an open comment field on its site or service that allows a user under 13 to make personal information publicly available. For example, think of a comment like this on a child-directed site: My name is Mary Jones from Springfield. I love this video!

How COPPA applies to channel owners

So how does COPPA apply to channel owners who upload their content to YouTube or another third-party platform? COPPA applies in the same way it would if the channel owner had its own website or app. If a channel owner uploads content to a platform like YouTube, the channel might meet the definition of a “website or online service” covered by COPPA, depending on the nature of the content and the information collected. If the content is directed to children and if the channel owner, or someone on its behalf (for example, an ad network), collects personal information from viewers of that content (for example, through a persistent identifier that tracks a user to serve interest-based ads), the channel is covered by COPPA. Once COPPA applies, the operator must provide notice, obtain verifiable parental consent, and meet COPPA’s other requirements. For information on how to comply with COPPA, please visit the FTC’s COPPA page for our Six-Step Compliance Plan for Your Business.

How channel owners can determine if their content is directed to children

Under COPPA, there is no one-size-fits-all answer about what makes a site directed to children, but we can offer some guidance. To be clear, your content isn’t considered “directed to children” just because some children may see it. However, if your intended audience is kids under 13, you’re covered by COPPA and have to honor the Rule’s requirements.

The Rule sets out additional factors the FTC will consider in determining whether your content is child-directed:

  • the subject matter,
  • visual content,
  • the use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives,
  • the kind of music or other audio content,
  • the age of models,
  • the presence of child celebrities or celebrities who appeal to children,
  • language or other characteristics of the site,
  • whether advertising that promotes or appears on the site is directed to children, and
  • competent and reliable empirical evidence about the age of the audience.

The determination of whether content is child-directed will be clearer in some contexts than in others, but we can share some general rules of thumb. First, unless you’re affirmatively targeting kids, there are many subject matter categories where you don’t have to worry about COPPA. For example, if your videos are about traditionally adult activities like employment, finances, politics, home ownership, home improvement, or travel, you’re probably not covered unless your content is geared toward kids. The same would be true for videos aimed at high school or college students. On the other hand, if your content includes traditional children’s pastimes or activities, it may be child-directed. For example, the FTC recently determined that an online dress-up game was child-directed.

Second, just because your video has bright colors or animated characters doesn’t mean you’re automatically covered by COPPA. While many animated shows are directed to kids, the FTC recognizes there can be animated programming that appeals to everyone.

Third, the complaint in the YouTube case offers some examples of channels the FTC considered to be directed to children. For example, many content creators explicitly stated in the “About” section of their YouTube channel that their intended audience was children under 13. Other channels made similar statements in communications with YouTube. In addition, many of the channels featured popular animated children’s programs or showed kids playing with toys or participating in other child-oriented activities. Some of the channel owners also enabled settings that made their content appear when users searched for the names of popular toys or animated characters. Want to see the FTC’s analysis in context? Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint.

Finally, if you’ve applied the factors listed in the COPPA Rule and still wonder if your content is “directed to children,” it might help to consider how others view your content and content similar to yours. Has your channel been reviewed on sites that evaluate content for kids? Is your channel – or channels like yours – mentioned in blogs for parents of young children or in media articles about child-directed content? Have you surveyed your users or is there other empirical evidence about the age of your audience?

What are the possible penalties for violating COPPA?

The Rule allows for civil penalties of up to $42,530 per violation, but the FTC considers a number of factors in determining the appropriate amount, including a company’s financial condition and the impact a penalty could have on its ability to stay in business. While Google and YouTube paid $170 million, in another COPPA case settled this year, the operator paid a total civil penalty of $35,000.

Isn’t the FTC taking another look at the COPPA Rule?

Yes, the FTC is currently evaluating the Rule in light of rapid changes in technology. If you would like to comment on the effectiveness of the COPPA Rule and whether changes are needed, the FTC has extended the comment deadline to December 9, 2019.

Where can channel owners go for more information?

A look at the factors in the COPPA Rule will help most channel owners determine if their content is directed to children. If you’re still unsure about how COPPA applies to you, consider contacting an attorney or consulting with one of the COPPA Safe Harbor programs – self-regulatory groups that offer guidance on how operators can comply with the law. Visit the FTC’s website for a list of currently approved Safe Harbor organizations. For more resources, visit the FTC’s Children’s Privacy page for our Six-Step Compliance Plan for Your Business.

 
 
 

2,464 Comments


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Luna
January 11, 2020
Look I get it that you want it for kids "protection" but now for adults you can't even type comments on some videos. i cant type peppa pig's thumbnail memes on the vids now :[
Guest
January 11, 2020
MY CHANEL IS NOT FOR CHILDREN ! SORRY MY ENGLISH IS NOT THE BEST ! I HOPE I MKED RIGHT ! M. STÜMER
Guest
January 11, 2020
It's not for kids my channel
Yara
March 02, 2020
Hello, My name is Yara and I'm Brazilian I wanted to say that a lot of my stuff on YouTube came out. Example: Community Bar, Comments, and Save Videos. My channel is programmed for people ages 14 and up since kids don't watch the type of my content. But still I am forbidden to comment etc. Can you help me
Guest
January 11, 2020
My four year old girl is completely addicted to my little pony, I hope she grows out of it before she turns 13! I spend 5-20 minutes almost every day trying to exclude inappropriate age and commercially mentally manipulative content, recommended or in my four year olds' watch history, very difficult, moments ago I deleted a series of "dirty"/suggestive inappropriate for a four year old videos regarding an animated squirrel "conker" with a hangover and a privative female model in sexually suggestive activities. My four year old does not write so she can't search, all content is suggested by YouTube, I believe that videos like that squirrel & the toy videos ride the algorithms still tracking my illiterate four year old preschool child. While I am concerned of content for older ages like teen Titans which are too violent for preschool children, and annoyed by product placement adds manipulating children with unhealthy McDonald's and products, inappropriate sexually suggestive content like that of the conker squirrel or some music parody videos with a confused gender theme in the channel but unrelated to the particular song, parodied artist, smack of cyberstalking & recruiting when delivered/suggested to my illiterate four year old preschool daughter.
Jalen Byrd
January 11, 2020
Coppa they made a mistake they need to switch YouTube miniplayer back the way it was and I don’t care if it’s video for kids or it safety for kids switch it back now
Guest
January 11, 2020
ok just for porn videos is good what do you do but not for music videos or christian music I am very happy it would be good for Facebook to put this restriction under 13 years
Guest
January 11, 2020
Why not give the viewer the choice if the video is kid friendly or not. I'm watching a video with cursing in it that's labeled co tent for children.... Really. This seems like a shame and I'm not pleased with your choices on how to comply with the law. YouTube is losing it's ethics on MANY fronts..
Guest
January 11, 2020
I dont get it
Tara b
January 11, 2020
I have an idea; what if youtube let children of all ages join so children don't feel the need to lie about their age, and if the child says they are under 13, they won't be served targeted ads?
Guest
January 11, 2020
Are pets considered for kids because that's what I base my channel off of
Guest
January 11, 2020
I don’t care I’m not a kid I’m an adult I don’t need this protection take it off my YouTube
hiroshi n
January 12, 2020
Don't identify all toy content as "child-oriented" content. For example, Plarail and Plarail Advance trains, Shinkansen, and locomotives are popular among railway fans (adults).
Guest
January 12, 2020
How can an animator know if they are under COPPA? What if you are a storytime animator and have a range of content? Are you covered by COPPA?
Mike
January 12, 2020
4,250? Sounds a little overkill there and even I seen overkill.
Guest
January 12, 2020
My all video for kids
Guest
January 12, 2020
I want to enjoy this too!
Guest
January 12, 2020
why my youtube channel is not able to subcribe what i have to do say plz plz plz plz plz plz plz
Guest
January 12, 2020
Not made for kid's my channel
Guest
January 12, 2020
I have a problem with this since YouTube or the FTC seems to be taking upon themselves to decide what content is made for kids. News reports and Political News reports are not suitable for children yet YouTube has slated plenty of VOA ,CNN, VOX, MSNBC video reports as “made for children”, talk about brainwashing. Please do something about this, they are out of control.
Guest
January 12, 2020
The whole “$42,000 per video” thing is kinda harsh,considering how some content creators almost tips over to the “for kids” market, one video that possibly be for kids could cost them THOUSANDS of dollars some content creators don’t even have that much scratch that,MOST don’t
Guest
January 12, 2020
verygood
Guest
January 12, 2020
Take the content coppa of my channel I don't have kids and I'm not a content creator
Guest
January 12, 2020
I think there should be a family content rule as-well I also think it is dumb for the comments to turn off too!
Guest
January 12, 2020
Dear coppa, we do understand that YouTube messed up but do you realize that some of those “kids videos” are how people make a living? Also you restrain a video that has minimal cussing while some you tubers are posting much much worst, honestly I think it’s unfair that you suddenly start restricting “kids videos” assuming that adults can’t like fun, happy, colorful, funny, Things. We appreciate that you are just trying to make up for YouTube’s mistakes but it’s a bit harsh restricting a video that could’ve taken hours, weeks, days even months to make, Hope you read this and try to understand that because YouTube messes up doesn’t mean that you have to punish the people who post, have a good 2020 and new decade and really consider what I’m trying to convey here.
Guest
January 12, 2020
You should take this child what ever off because lil kids like babies get really upset if you turn what ever they are watching off and if they try to turn another song on while the other song stop playing they are going to have a fit
Garett's Schle…
January 13, 2020
Hello FTC i know your busy trying to read all the comments but, may i ask some questions, Is my channel going to be fine because my content has Schleich horses(a high quality choking hazard toy) and Gacha life( an app where you can costumize characters anything you want) because i already put mine made fir kids and other vids not made for kids, so is my channel going to be safe? Please reply because i might get fined $42000 because i rated some of my vids not for kids because I don't know my audience
Guest
January 13, 2020
Animated characters what if it's things like rick and Morty or other adult content that's animated what about anime that stuff focused towards adults and it sounds like you gonna sue the people who lost that kind of stuff You say games like all video games are ment for children I get hints like Pokemon but not other heavy ma+ game like GTA and things like persona which have both animated characters and is a game but is still rated teens and up
Guest
January 13, 2020
Who’s idea was COPPA?
Dominick
January 13, 2020
My account is not for children because I have music that swears and it should not be copy writed because I have it in description
Guest
January 13, 2020
MY YouTube channel all creat video is not made for kids
Guest
January 13, 2020
I am afraid what will happen
Guest
January 13, 2020
Thanks
Guest
January 13, 2020
There must be be a way to activate and verifying I'm a grown up.
John Doe
January 13, 2020
This is absolutely ridiculous, it is the parents job, not the site. YouTube is not a babysitter! And $42,000? this largely impacts even the biggest YouTubers!, plus there is still YT kids!
Guest
January 13, 2020
Freedom of information /opinion is essentional : if accomplidhed with a warning for being responsible for interpreting info is your own responsability: should be enough! Why forced censureship if people arenot capable to make their own decisions! Morons? Let's us self decide! Censoring creates a statement! We're excellent capable to judge for ourselves!!!
Mark Romel Duclayan
January 13, 2020
Thank you
Guest
January 13, 2020
It is for adults
Guest
January 13, 2020
I am not a kid and does not have one so, please can this mode be desactivated thanks.
Jocelyne
January 14, 2020
I'm a person who loves watching cartoons on YouTube. I sometimes upload funny clips to show people how funny they are, letting people know that I don't own the show. Most of the cartoons are kids cartoons, like SpongeBob Squarepants. I love being able to joke around in the comments section with people, and I don't understand why YouTube has to be so safety conscious when there's no need t be at the moment. I honestly don't see how turning off the comments stops child predators, because it doesn't. I personally think that content creators should be in charge of their own comments and decide for themselves whether to disable comments or not. They should be allowed to review comments before the comments are published. I'm a person who wants kids to be safe, but I think that disabling comments is too strict. People should be allowed to have freedom in the comments, but people should also be allowed to report comments if they need to. Not only is this a problem for cartoon fans, this is also a problem for artists of YouTube. Just because someone repaints a doll, doesn't mean the video is for kids.
Teddy Obiero
January 14, 2020
No,not for kids
Guest
January 14, 2020
my upload videos are for all ages fit for all audiences
David
January 14, 2020
What if the video includes people from age of 12 - 18 trying out for a baseball team? It is not intended just for kids under 13 but intended for anyone to watch but just has kids under the age of 13 in the video. Does that qualify?
yaliel
January 18, 2020

In reply to by David

I want to subscribe to video's but it doesn't let me subscribe to video's.
Guest
January 14, 2020
nice
Guest
January 14, 2020
How can I opt out I'm a senior and I have no children in my apartment
Guest
January 14, 2020
I would like to know why the mini player and the ability to save videos are restricted. What about them infringes on child’s protection laws?
Guest
January 14, 2020
I nota kid!!!!!!
David
January 14, 2020
My video hads made not for kids
Someone
January 15, 2020
Im ok with videos being 4 kids but dont take away our precious comments and notifications bell

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