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

If you want to fairly enforce the law, put pressure on YouTube to properly verify that channels and content marked as "for children" actually is for children and is not improperly monetized. If a video or channel is improperly marked as "for children", investigate and determine whether the content creator or YouTube gave it that label. Content creators will work in good faith to stay compliant. YouTube will not.

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.

They already did it, they even recommend to put an age check before entering a site, but Youtube didn't implemented it, Youtube just screwed things up not the FTC.

How do you determine if someone is under 13? That’s impossible to do on the internet. Yes, this may be hurting a lot of people, but I’m on both sides saying that this law plays a part in society, but also needs to be redefined.

What About Gaming Channels?

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.

This is exactly what I'm thinking.
Animation can appeal to everyone.
What if it has curse words or adult themes such as abuse, alcohol, addiction, murder etc?
Bright colours can be used in anything.
The entire FTC is a boomer.

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

I have a channel that is for Acrylic pouring and is meant for adults. There are a lot of these channels and we use ingredients in our work that are toxic. Because it is art many of us do not know how to answer that question. Can you please help. Google Acrylic Pouring and you can see.
Susan

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

My main thing is can you specify gaming conternt? Like Serb rated games that are rated e for everyone or where is the cutoff line. It just said gaming content which I feel is to vague and under that you might argue games rated t. Also can you guys rule on loot boxes being gambling. It’s underage gambling for minors if you’re so worried about children worry about underage gambling.

Dear FTC, In your last article, you did not mention gaming and did not specify if it was child directed or not. Gaming in the XXI. century is part of our culture, and for instance Minecraft is a huge cultural piece, not only made for kids, however, Minecraft channel owners are affraid that you may consider their channels kids oriented due to the game and family friendly language. Please, clarify the situation of gaming content in the context of COPPA.

To me this is very sad. All my favorite YouTubers are going to be gone. Please don't do this. They are real people with real dreams.They all could end up on the streets. If a YouTuber has been making family friendly content for years and they have thousands of family friendly videos, they will quite possibly get bankrupt. Please don't do this. I know these YouTubers, they are good people who don't belong one the street. Please think about these human beings. Please. None of them had any idea this was even a rule. And now they are getting punished. They had no idea. This is not the creators faults. You are a government agency, can't you do something that doesn't end up with thousands of people ending up bankrupt. They are not fish in a barrel, they are humans, with feelings. Please don't think about them like that. That made me pretty upset. This is in no way a hate comment. It's just that my favorite YouTubers, these people who have got me through some tough times. They've gotten people through depression. They have faced so much. They've created fan bases. They work hard on there videos. You may have not have known this, but they've been threw a lot. Controversy. Demonetization. Copy right strikes. This is the kind of thing they have to deal with. And these human beings, reduced to fish. Fish. Not to mention how vague the rules are. i don't know if you realize this, but games aren't just for children. Minecraft, roblox, fortnite. Will all the gamers be gone. Just because there are little characters not only children enjoy it. Most Youtubers channels aren't directed to kids. They are for everyone. It's not their fault that some kids will stumble upon their video and enjoy them. They have no control over kids watching there videos. Obviously some kids will stumble upon there video because of the algorithm, but it is not the Youtubers fault. Animators. Will all animation videos get demonetized. Just because there are animations it doesn't mean it's for kids. Like family guy. But obviously kids will stumble upon it and like it. On Youtube there are videos that are obviously for kids. Like the singing the abc's or toy unboxings. This is what is obvious. But games. Because they have characters that could be appealing for kids. But adults like them too. Like Pokemon. It's a game that looks appealing for children, but lots of adults enjoy it too. Minecraft, and Roblox. The rules are just so vague. Will a video get demonetized become some kids just manage to find the video and enjoy it even though it is clearly for people who are above 13. Will they get demonetized. I just don't get it honestly. Just please. Think about this. Think about the real people who work very hard on there videos. Please just don't do it. This is not right. Please.

I know, and we can't watch what we love and the government f tc will just pretend it is just a safe change but we shouldn't pay for this

What happens when someone just uploads their Disney Vacation? Does that mean that parent has to be worried about being in violation of COPPA? What happens to content creators that do videos based on Disney or other kid friendly content and they can't get the ad revenue? I hope that the FTC takes things like this into consideration before bankrupting families that just want to share their time on vacation. Is it getting to the point of making DVDs again and mailing them to family and friends? I hope my comments and questions are closely looked at. I'd hate to see content taken off the internet because of this law. Thank you.

I am aiming for a adult teenager audience our humor is OK I wouldn’t say anything offensive I wouldn’t show acts of breaking the law Or anything else like that or anything else like that I just play games talk about things post Memes and draw that’s it nothing else maybe now and then I will react to something but that’s Harley happens

Please help me how to choose

Yes FTC my question for you is how should you know if something is directed to children under 13 would you go the very obvious route and see if the content -creator/uploader has admitted it and or has it in a title (for kids or kids videos).Have you taken into account that we no longer have computers from 1998 in are houses anymore but more advanced computers in are phone while it way easier for a child to remember a parents email address I can understand that I've done it when I was a child but I dont think the child (under 13) will find out there address just to get on youtube and so can you really blame it on youtube for trying to advertise something based on what your watching because it not very hard.for example if I said my favorite food was pizza your first thought would be they liked this so I'll give the this but with a little more for them to try.
youtube has an option to put I'm not interested it's like Amazon or anything other website with games or videos on it would you sue google for children under 13 having phones and searching up Jake Paul and then news about Jake paul coming up when they open it again you can attempt this yourself in you need to show the head you just get a phone that's never been used and search up one thing open a page about it then exit out of the page and make a new one and news will come up on the thing you searched up so what is going to stop a kid from doing the same also every website sets ads from info about you google collects info from you and then uses it to direct ads to you whenever it feels it needs to.

Please change your policy because it's not the responsibility of the creators to look for children, it's their parents responsibility.

Oh my god thank you. Someone who knows logic here.

My content is made of for every one adult and for kids

Yeah you guys do realize that while some cartoons are for kids, anime which based on what I'm reading you consider a cartoon isn't even close to being aimed at children. Examples would be One Piece, Hellsing, Goblin Slayer. While alot of kids play games are you going to conaider those channels who make videos of them play any of the call of duty games which aren't rated for children but an extreme amount of kids under 13 play it. Just saying based on what im seeing the rules are far to vague.

Content creators on youtube don’t have any methods of collecting information because google controls the platform that allows us to upload videos

To whom it may concern;
I would like to bring to light a possible oversight concerning a creator’s content being the issue: someone under the age of 13 is capable of viewing more mature content on various social media platforms. It is incredibly easy for a child to falsify their age when signing up for most platforms by either, 1) when prompted to give an age, simply inputting an older age, or 2) when asked to give a birthdate, inputting a year that would make the user appear older than they are to the platform.
Also, an adult is capable of signing into their personal account and then handing the device, now authorized with the parent’s credentials, to their child. Therefore, if a specific piece of content is not considered child friendly, and is in fact not, it would still be possible for that underage user to access the media, all while being subject to data tracking and the acquisition of other personal data, simply because the platform believes the user to be older than they are. Content creators can play by the rules as much as possible, marking videos, or even entire channels as “intended for children.” However, if a child ever desires to view more adult-oriented content, the process would be quite easy due to this loophole in a platforms’ Terms of Service and their sign-up process when creating a profile.
Ultimately, it is the parents’ responsibilities to monitor what their children visit and/or view when online, since they would know for absolute certainty the age of the child using those online services, and be able to consent to the child’s access of such services.
Thank you for your time,
Kyle Seifert

Hello I’ve read through all of the contents given in this I would like to share my thoughts on this, I personally think that the fine for violating a rule is quite high I did some research of my own and I think if you did this to any YouTuber they’ll be bankrupt YouTubers aren’t rich and don’t have this kind of money laying around to cover that and I think that’s why lots of people don’t want to continue doing the thing they love (making content) because they don’t want the risk of having to pay that is there anyway You could make it $900 or something lower that’s actually possible to pay off this is mostly because I myself want to start making my own cartoon on the platform and I Don’t want it for kids cuz it’s gonna have adult themes throughout it and I don’t have that kinda money I’m personally still in high school so this’ll be a big problem for me please think about changing it to a reasonable amount (900 and lower would be nice but still)

UP TO $42,530. UP TO. It's not 42k in all cases, and there will most likely never be a fine that high, SO yes, in some cases, Youtubers CAN be fined $900, It depends how much the circumstance violated COPPA

Hey if youtubes getting punished why aren't the other mass of apps are too? Litteraly every social media does this. Could i get an explaination here?

Other services are getting whacked. E.g., Musical.ly with a $5.7 million settlement for the same thing YouTube was doing.

I agree! What about Instagram, or FB or other apps out there? So much inappropriate video on IG. This is parental responsibility not a video creator one. It takes a lot of time and energy to create content for everyone to view. Why should they lose revenue?

I think it's because Google threw its users under the bus rather than applying a common sense strategy like ensuring that any of their ads that target children have tracking disabled or setup a sub account system to allow parents control. It's not an effective strategy, just the option that costs Google the least.

I highly doubt that such an agreement is enforceable as written,but even if it is its not effective in the least.

I'm confused, you have to be 13 to watch youtube content unless you have parent consent. That means parents are handing a device to a child under 13 with their account to allow their kids to watch whatever content it is this reads as consent to me I also dont know of any kids under 13 that can buy a device that will run YouTube or pay a monthly internet bill to watch YouTube. Parents are allowing children under 13 to watch content. I can tell you right now that I have 2 children under the age of 7 that watch lots of different YouTube content and I dont have a problem with it but what your planning to do is going to destroy a lot of the programming that my kids watch which is a sad and the last time I checked my kids have 2 parents neither of which are named FTC. I dont see how you have the right to choose what my kids watch because of adds. Regular tv broadcasting has commercials for children and then the very next commercial is for viagra so what gives, thank you.

What if we have an old YouTube account we can’t access in order to make changes?

A word of advice Please treat YouTuber like people working a job just like you, they have emotions and it's important to please treat them like humans instead of robots

For me COPPA can be quite good to protect childrens but it also have s quite big effect on some of the communities on youtube for example the animator and gacha community will be heavily affected some people i know quit youtube because of this. But this is not the only problem what if someone uses youtube for making money? What if it's their only source of income? Alot of people will strugle because of this please update the COPPA rules a bit.

I think COPPA is vaguely worded in an insane sense that puts too much pressure on content creators that often, besides celebrities, do not have a "target audience." Instead of violating the first amendment and silencing people and what they want to create, more emphasis should be put on helping parents regulate what their children watch and educate them. "Shielding" children from adds on Youtube won't educate them in the long-run in the way only a parent can by talking to them about what they see and discussing it as it happens. This helps children learn to determine the fiction of advertisements from reality.

I would avoid categorizing videos into child-aimed or not and focus on the real issue; that parents are using Youtube to parent their children.

My chennal not for kids

Should all of the channel is shutting down, don't let all of the peoples channels is shutting down and keep all of the YouTubers being in YouTube forever UwU

I think we need to examine if COPPA in its new iteration is constitutional. The issue lies in the designation of children or 'kid's' content. Stopping the data collecting of under 13s and requiring Youtubers or whomever to label their own content is fine. However, the term "appeal to children" is problematic and curtails free speech.
Also, allowing YouTube to self monitor with as yet untested Artifical Intelligence, in conjunction with what might constitute a criminal charge disrupts the judiciary process and does not allow anyone who posts content due process, inherently.

Well said. Someone who is thinking about this with respect to the rights of others.

This is a violation of the first amendment: freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Do not punish YouTube's userbase for YouTube's mistakes. This will cripple YouTube and many people will lose their livelihood over this. I had to delete my channel because, even though they were not monetized, YouTube's system still collects data from your viewers. It would have bankrupted me if I got fined just because one of my thumbnails was pink and had hearts in it. How about instead of punishing the content creators for innocently using the website, punish YouTube and make them fix their broken system.

You say "directed at children" which is those under 13. YouTube is not a site "directed at children" No such channel should be so. YouTubes own TOS states: Age Requirements You must be at least 13 years old to use the Service. However, children of all ages may use YouTube Kids (where available) if enabled by a parent or legal guardian. So, only YT Kids falls under COPPA. Technically speaking.

I feel like the Federal Trade Commission is throwing Google/YouTube creators under the bus by telling us that if we don't mark our channel(s) correctly that we could be fined a hefty amount of money when it was Google/YouTube that was collecting channel data illegally having NOTHING to do with YouTube Creators.

Please seriously reconsider this. So many people's small businesses and livelihoods are at stake. This is an out of touch decision that protects little to no children, while ruining so many Youtubers incomes. I'm only a viewer, biased, yes, but not tremendously. This NEEDS to be reconsidered

Yes I agree with you

TV programs and video games have a ratings system that tells what is in the content. Based on those ratings parents and guardians are able to determine what can or can not be watched. In some cases kids themselves can see the rating and know if they are or are not allowed to see/play that content. If a rating system was made that worked as it does on TV, where it can be blocked by parents for kids, would that help with being COPPA compliant? By showing a 'FF' rating for 'Family Friendly' content or 'YT14' (YouTube 14+) ext. during the introduction of the video and giving adults the ability to block certain ratings help content creators, the FTC, Youtube, and most important the children all get an outcome where it is fair for everyone?

This. This is a system i can get behind

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