YouTube channel owners: Is your content directed to children?

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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.

 
 
 

Comments

I'm glad that now content creators know this now and wont be scared to post a video!

What the heck? This rules might as well cancel google and YouTube in itself.

they would be more scared than ever

Actually, seeing this made me delete all my videos.

Please consider to take down this rule. We understand you want to ensure the safety of kids. But this rule can destroy the lives of many innocent content creators like myself who uploads for fun. Instead, you should warn parents to look out for their kids. There's already "YouTube kids" out there. Children should have enough protection already unless the parents are responsible for their information leak. Please consider. Spare us.

Finally someone with common sense

Please! Even though I live in another country, ( and not a youtuber ) I don't want this mess.

There needs to be made an option for this!

this sucks just make a parental controls what is the point of this.

I agree with this. There could be a parental control setting instead so if parents want their kids to only watch kid friendly videos it wouldn't be much of a problem.

isn't there already a Restricted Mode? if YouTube can't make YT Kids work, why doesn't it just tweak Restricted Mode so kids only see videos that are marked as "directed towards children". tho in order for this to properly work, it'd have to stop auto-marking certain videos as "directed towards kids" unless the channels specifically say they're geared towards kids. might work. hopefully it wouldn't have as much backlash as COPPA seems to be getting

Thank you for your clarification on COPPA's guidelines and how it will affect youtube. I would only like to request some clarification on what defines child-oriented pastimes. Namely, whether video games as a whole are under this umbrella, and if so, I would object to that decision. Video games are a wide category played by any and all age groups, and even games that are rated E for Everyone by the ESRB, and thus child-friendly, are not played by only children. Furthermore, just because a game is child-friendly does not mean that the commentary is also child-friendly. To use myself as an example, my youtube channel is purely recreational and not monetized, nor will it ever be, and my target audience is my friends in the same age group as myself - late 20s-early 30s. Sometimes my uploads include E-rated, very child-friendly games, but I will often interject profanity out of excitement or frustration, thus not being child-friendly myself. I trust the FTC to consider these circumstances for my channel and other channels, but I wish this context be known for the purposes of definition and not categorizing all gaming youtubers into the same group.

I'm in a similar boat. Further communication by COPPA or YouTube is needed.

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. Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint to see the FTC’s analysis in context.

It mentions these particular channels and what they do, but not what to AVOID. which one s the most important part.

Please be more clear in what to AVOID.

According to the response provided, as someone who read it, I would suggest you AVOID the specific actions that are described as being in violation. Namely, if your target audience is decidedly not for children, don't describe your channel as something for children in it's About section or in any of the videos, don't actively play with toys or games designed for children in the videos, and don't create in such a way that your video is in the top ten searches for a popular child's toy or game.

It's good to know that when we voice our honest concerns they simply copy and paste this response as they see fit regardless of the specifications of our questions. That's neither helpful nor responsible.

That said, I'm in same predicament. The games my team and I play vary in appropriateness and our commentary often goes uncencored. Understanding the need to protect children, I've begun marking our videos as not for children in our upload menu, but I hear even that may not be enough. "Is this true?"
If so, this is honestly frightening. If marking my team's content as "not intended for children" is not enough how are we expected to continue? We are adults that post artwork, make music, and play videogames as a means to connect. If labeling our content as "not for children" isn't enough, what is?

Yeah, its kinda a good idea. But, you know...some Youtubers (even when they're playing Kids Games) swear in every sentences and talking something that's not appropriate for kids.

I think we should have content filtering that monitor languages.

Can the content age above 13 to 17, still cover under COPPA in some countries?

How about ventriloquist channel?

It's my belief that just because children enjoy certain activities, that doesn't mean that those activities are geared towards children. In this article, it brings up cartoons/animation. However, there are many other activities that need to be addressed. For instance, video games. While, yes, some video games are geared more towards kids, like Nintendo games, not all games are like that. Would you say that games like GTA and Call of Duty are the same as games such as Mario or Minecraft? There's also the point to be made that just because you play a game that is directed more towards kids, that doesn't mean that it's intended for kids. In many Youtubers cases, they can play video games that are directed more towards kids, such as Minecraft or Fortnite, but they include swearing, vulgar language, or adult themes. Therefore, you cannot say that those videos they make on those games are for kids. I also like to think that a lot of Youtubers that make content don't think about targeting kids, and rather just want to make content that they enjoy. Please try to consider what I have listed here and rethink your approach to this. While it is true that many things on Youtube and sites like it needs to be fixed, taking such extreme action may not be the best way to go.

COPPA, THIS IS AMERICAN LAW, OK?

I'M FROM OTHER COUNTRY AND COLLECTING PERSONAL INFO FROM KIDS IS LEGAL THERE. SO YOU CANT FINES YOUTUBE CREATORS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES, BECAUSE EVERY COUNTRIES HAS THEIR OWN LAW!

SO, THIS AMERICAN LAW CANT APPLY TO THE ENTIRE PLANET EARTH!

THANKS!

Foreign-based websites and online services must comply with COPPA if they are directed to children in the United States, or if they knowingly collect personal information from children in the U.S. The law’s definition of “operator” includes foreign-based websites and online services that are involved in commerce in the United States or its territories. As a related matter, U.S.-based sites and services that collect information from foreign children also are subject to COPPA. See COPPA FAQS B.7. https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/complying-coppa-frequently-asked-questions

Wondarful

Hello, I'm an aspiring content creator and I play video games for my channel. So games may include Minecraft, Dead by Daylight, Uno, etc. I'm wondering if any of that would be considered "kids content" for my channel? Thank you for you time.

Hello. This clarifies it a little bit more, but even after reading I am confused. I think the best option would simply be to allow parents to give explicit permission for YouTube to use their children's data from YouTube. It is the parent's responsibility to protect children online, not content creators, YouTube themself, or even the FTC. Thank you for taking this message into consideration and I hope it makes an impact.

Please don't do this to YouTube you are going make it hard for people to have a job

This is pure idiotic. You want the cartoon creators & channel owners to dumb down kids shows. And make the kids become dumb?

This whole thing will literally KILL youtube, or at least most of the youtube community. this is bad. please don't let this pass. for the gaming community on youtube, this is bad. people will lose their jobs and go bankrupt. we're begging you, don't do this to youtube.

Probably will not end YouTube

I’m not gonna fuss but I totally think YouTube is gonna affect the people using it

Hello, I am a content creator from canada and im completely unsure if this affects me. If it does I cant afford a 42k fine, but I also cant afford to have my revenue cut in half.

Please change this, thanks.

Stop COPPA please is gaming videos like (PUBG, COD) is directed to children

Under COPPA, there is no one-size-fits-all answer about what makes a site directed to children.

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.

If YouTube splits their platform in 3 may help with the compliance issue?
Let me explain:
YouTube for Kids may only display content that is market by their creators as for kids, still should not have any comment section or anything that can be used for tracking information and kids would not be able to access adult oriented content on this platform.
In the other hand, we may include the regular YouTube platform where kids under the age of 13 will not be allowed to navigate.
The content here will be upload by medium and small channels and their content creators need to mark their uploads as not child oriented.
The videos marked as Child Oriented will not be displayed here even if the user enters the specific channel name or video name as it will be only displayed on the Kids Platform.
And finally the YouTube Premium platform will contain all big channels with high audience for adult oriented content with the same search restrictions as the Regular platform.

By doing this We all can Acomplish with the following:

1-Youtube and Content Creators will be in compliance with Coppa as the content for Kids Will be Allocated in a separated platform exclusively for them with all necessary restrictions and the creators can get their revenew by the views not by ads.

2-Content Creators can continue to do their job with no fear of penalties because their videos will be stored an a different the appropriated platform that they have chosen to upload to.

I appreciate the space to submit this comment, hope it helps to Acomplish with the law and to keep sustainable business for content creators.

ALONSO PORRAS VENEGAS
From Costa Rica

Kids under 13 are already not supposed to be on youtube. Issue is there's no feasible way to enforce it.

If you think you can violate my Eighth Amendment right and impose an unjust fine of $42,530 against me. Well I guess I have every right to sue the FTC for millions of dollars and go to the Supreme Court about this issue.

How would this apply to gaming video's?
Let's say I uploaded a Mario video but there's cursing and other image's that kid's shouldn't be looking at, how would that video be judged?
Whould I have to put something on screen at the beginning of the video saying that this video is not for kids?

Agreed, they need to come out and tell GAMING Youtubers what we can and can't do on Youtube, stuff like Pokemon and Mario have huge adult followings, and it sucks for us.

I Think This Will Just End Up Hurting Children. Without Child Content, What Are They Gonna Watch? Inappropriate Stuff, For Sure.

but they have youtube kids. it's really the parents' problem what their child is watching anyway.

KIDS BEFORE 2020: "Look! there's safe videos on YT! They're cool!"
KIDS OPENING YOUTUBE IN 2020: "Where's my fav gaming youtubers???" *click some videos that look great* "AGE RESTRICTION, 18+ ONLY!"
KIDS: "Mom, YT has no kids vids...All friendly youtubers is quitting."
MOM: "Open YT Kids."
YT Kids: literally empty...

Yes, all my videos included for children’s

So 18+ anime has "cartoon characters" right? Whats the deal on that?

I believe with the certainty of children online security and I'm not against it at all but this rule/law is doing more harm than good. What I mean is, this not only the guidelines are vague and very confusing as if its not well thought out but also its going against our rights and this is being taking to far and not being looked at logically and planed out like a group or a government entity should be doing so. This is unfair because not only you are limiting the content creators freedom and the pursuit of happiness which she or he has the unalienable rights to have because of the first amendment but you are basically going against everyone and not doing the research of the serious damages you guys are going to make in which you are taking the jobs and careers that people that sacrificed their lives to make a living off of and in comparison of how the reviewer or staff who reads this that sacrificed their time to get into the FTC so they can pursue their dream. I know you guys are doing your jobs and protecting us and I love of you guys do and I highly respect you guys but please (and I really mean this) make the youtube guidrlines more fair and more specific because as I mentioned they're vague and they seem very daunting because it seems like you guys are trying to kill off youtube and fine everyone just for money grabbing purposes and no one likes that look. I personally don't this to be a bad thing but from the looks of it, it is and its sad. I hope you have a wonderful month and let's hope this turns out to be a good thing instead of people getting fined out of thin air.

This is not good for you to because this will harm the YouTubers and then YouTube will fail

The way the current rules seem to work is that any channel that has animation is at risk for becoming penalized from this system, whether they intend for their content to be viewed by children or not. Same can be said to any channel that periodically deals with child like content but deal with other aspects of them. A change to allow already animated content on the platform go through a separate inspection to see whether or not they are intended for child content or not I believe should be added to ensure that these channels are not wrongly accused of child marketing.

I would like to watch things without having to go to a child version of YouTube . Also alot of people will leave

If I mark all my videos on my channel as 'Not Intended for Children' could I be fined if my content is appropriate for children? Appropriate definition: Playing an all-ages video game, not cursing or using foul language, teaching a skill (craft or DIY), or talking about characters that are in PG movies?

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