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

What about toys that are not directly directed towards children? Figurines? Doll customizing? Cartoons that are directed towards children but that may not only appeal to children such as My Little Pony, which has many adult and teen fans? How will those cases be handled? How can a content creator be responsible for who views their content? Youtube is automatically setting some videos to kids only. This is way too aggressive and it still seems too broad. Kids don't have a set of things that appeal to them. Adults can like kid stuff too. Kids often watch videos with adult content. Kids often lie on YouTube's sign up about their age. Please release more information about this.

What about channels that provide independent commentary and use animation or clips of things considered for kids? Are they problematic under COPPA?

Almost every video on YouTube contradicts with one to all of the guidelines listed on this page., we need simple rules that all of us can follow.

Simple rules to follow would be great for a YouTuber like me so I can keep uploading content for all my subs.
It's fun to be a YouTuber but all these non-simple rules may lead to me deleting my channel. I very much agree that the rules need to be simple.

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.

What about channels that have mixed stuff? I make unboxing videos of toys, i have game videos(ranging from mature games to family friendly games), , travelling vblogs and pets. My channel is not monetized, i make no money from my videos, i have never applied for monetisation.
I have never stated anywhere that i aim my content for children, and i do not, my audience is general audience, and youtubes stats show that most people who watch my videos are between the age of 18-34
I speak foreign languege in my videos as i am not the citizen of usa or any other english speaking country, but i add subtitles in english into my videos.
Am i safe? Do i need to make my channel made for children as i do not aim my videos for kids? It is not made for children it is made for all people, and mostly toy collectors watch my unbox videos.
I am very scared that youtube has a bot that can just go and cnahne your video for you if it deems it made for kids, and then you can sue me for thousands of dollars even though i do not even live in usa. I do not have that kind of money, on some months i can just barely buy food for myself and pay my rent. That would kill me.

Why aren't you guys considering to add mixed content. Mixed content would solve this problem and it would make things easier. Why must you make our fight to have you listen even harder? Mixed content is an alternative that I feel would please everyone. Because even though there can be content that appeals to kids, they can appeal to adults as well. You all just don't understand and I personally feel that you are out of touch. I will continue my fight as is everyone else in the hopes that we can convince you to listen. Sure you are listening but it's not enough. It's never enough. We want you to know that we want you guys to leave content creators alone. We aren't the reason why YouTube got in this predicament, YouTube and it's CEO did on their own with their machine-learning systems. We end up paying the price for what they did and now you decide to punish us. That's inexcusable.

Please consider adding a mixed content option because that would not only solve this whole mess but it can favor everyone and we won't have to be worrying and dreading and what not. I only pray that you will consider.

I think this was addressed above. "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."
The bottom line there is who your target audience is. If you are family-friendly and target adults, it seems to me that you wouldn't likely fall under COPPA at all. Most adults won't watch someone play with toys for hours on end (ie child-directed content), but many kids are interested in adult-directed content.

Please clarify exactly what the terms of " activities appealing to children means!!! It's kinda vague

Why not impose a tax on child content, then everything can go back to normal, instead of shutting down channels

The list of rules provided is too vague and needs more details. Otherwise I am very confused as to what they are supposed to mean.

For example:

-Please specify what "visual content" is safe for children and what "visual content" is not. It is stated that you realise a cartoon character isn't automatically made for kids so please provide more details on what "visual content" is appropriate for certain ages.

-Please specify "the kind of music or other audio content" that is suitable for kids and "the kind of music or other audio content" that is not. What makes a piece of music not suitable for kids? Is it the genre? Is it the melody? Is it the lyrics themselves? Please provide more details.

-Please specify "the age of models" that appeals to children by giving an age range.

-What does "language or other characteristics of the site" mean? Please provide more details.

While I understand the new thing the FTC are doing, I still have a problem. What about those who have gaming content or play games that kids play, but the content is pointed towards a more mature audience? Like if the game is pointed toward all ages, but the content in which the creator makes is pointed to a mature age. Would they still be safe like certain animation channels or will they be flagged as only children content too?

Can we just not have this coppa stuff? Just let the creators be free and let parents be parents, fine the parents imagine how much money u could make then.

Yeah coppa has to ruin all fun basically coppa is just mean and I agree with you

Well, the whole point of COPPA is basically online parenting for kids whose parents can't parent. COPPA was created to keep the bad stuff from children.

Unfortunately, COPPA needs to happen so that YouTube and Google can't collect any more data illegally. The problem from the start has been the vague descriptions of what's going on and what changes are being made, but now as you can see they have clarified on much of the confusion. The content creators can still have the freedom to make whatever content they want. They simply need to let YouTube, and in turn the FTC, who it is their videos are intended for and if they are "intended for children" they simply have to make sure they don't cross the line.

will setting my channel to mix audience affect my monetization?

As a disabled content creator this hurts because content creators should not be responsible for what kids watch and what they don’t, we shouldn’t be punished for something a child watches. I upload gaming content because it’s an outlet for me and it’s incredibly fun, I shouldn’t have to determine if it’s suitable for kids. I understand the seriousness of this but please don’t punish us content creators whether we have large channels or small channels like mine. I ask you to reverse this and give YouTube the option to quit getting info on kids. Thank you, Crippled Gaming.

This is ridiculous, it's not the creators on YouTube's fault that parents don't watch their kids.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

How about ventriloquist channel?

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.

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.

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

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?

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

Yes, all my videos included for children’s

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?

This helps a bit but do we immediately get the fine or do we get a few warnings first?

This is wrong we shouldnt take away from youtube creators just because it "might" have a kid watching. I understand that we need to protect our kids but is wrapping them up in bubble wrap and taking Youtube and videos on there really the way to do it?So to the ftc find a differnt way to do this.Instead of making it harder for youtube creators to make videos,make it harder for kids to watch them.For example if someone really wants to watch youtube make them make an account then maybe make them wait a week for youtube to check if there really above the age of 13.

Slight complaint, I read video games, animation, bright colors are listed, and I have read "for everyone", but here's the thing.
I don't know who got the idea that these things are only aimed at kids.
There's adult animations, adult video games, and bright colors can be for everyone, not just kids!
Not all animations or games need to be "adult" related, many games are rated Teen, teen is not for kids. You need to stop being vague, and separate the two. I visited multiple sources and you'll be surprised that there's a few million people who already got word and they're fed up.
I came here to be reasonable, not looking for trouble. However this situation is too vague and it's limiting content creators far too much to the point that every single content creator that I know, is acting more assertive, showing more adult theme nudity in their content just to avoid this situation which they shouldn't even have to! What you're doing, is wrong, this is limiting content freedom, people's art, and their voices. What happened to freedom of speech? Why do they need to force themselves like this, their content was never intended for children/kids to begin with. Get your heads out of the gutter. Thank you for your time.

My channel is for 14+ but my videos could be mistaken for children content as it is a video game
This would not affect me would it

Hello,I Would like to ask why you did these?And yes i know it for Childrens Privacy but there are Small Channels Out there...
It would Be Better if you could just make Kids Use Youtube Kids and Remove the inappropriate Videos that Youtube kids Has.
Thank you for Reading,i will be Waiting for a Response.

You are going to ruin so many lives and I need you to do this 1 thing please just if a child is found just put them into YouTube kids

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