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

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

That’s.....actually a really good idea. I was thinking something similar where is the video contains swearing and stuff like that, some sort of symbol could be next to the title which would mean that it has foul language.

Why can't there instead be a big announcement on YouTube's front page, ads, and commercials telling parents to only let their kids use YouTube Kids? Then, have uploaders who make children's content just upload their content there separately, while letting regular YouTube be for teens and up? Because there are a LOT more adults who collect and review toys, enjoy children's cartoons, and play games for all ages, than you guys seem to realize. There's also the issue of parodies/YouTube Poops. For example, many adults use editing to make characters such as Spongebob or Steven Universe say inappropriate things as a form of creative comedy. These kinds of works are HUGELY popular among teens and adults nowadays.

The absolute LAST thing YouTube should do, is to override our manual settings (marking our videos as "Not for kids") with their Machine Learning Algorithm that scans videos, identifies bright colors or kids' cartoon characters, and CHANGES our settings against our will. They themselves say this is what they'll do. That will put kids in DANGER of seeing those adult humor parodies that they're NOT ready for.

Isn't the point supposed to be PROTECTING children? Then tell YouTube NOT to use the algorithm. All of our videos should be marked as "not for kids" BY DEFAULT. Then we should not only be able to manually opt-in and mark videos that ARE for kids as "for kids"... but they should be routed specifically to YouTube Kids, so there's no more risk of kids coming across videos meant for adults.

Please consider this as a much better solution. Because as it stands, thousands of accounts could be pulled, poor college students could be sued, countless classic videos will be gone forever, and the livelihoods of many content makers can be torn away, under how YouTube is choosing to handle this. So please, not only direct them to use a better method (which they DEFINITELY have at their disposal), but keep in mind with these rules that the tastes of adulthood are not the same as they used to be in this modern age. Laws need to be relevant before they're put into action.

Thank you.

I am a person who was born in 1997- COPPA has been in effect almost my entire life. Yet when I wanted to join a website when I was 9, I just lied about my age and calculated how old I needed to be to be on the site. Kids today are smarter about technology than I was because they have had access to it their whole lives. I think we have all seen a baby use a smartphone with eerie ease. In that vein, I don't think COPPA comes from a bad place, (I don't think babies brains should be pumped full of advertisments) but reading through the wording, it obviously doesn't understand how the internet functions today. I think the content that is clearly for children should be protected- songs for children and toy unboxing videos done by children are definitely violations of the law. By even this published clarification is still very vague and is leaving a lot of people terrified over their income- youtubers and their teams who never intended to break the law, and many of whom can't afford any sort of fine. I understand that it is difficult to publish examples for every situation, but I honestly don't think there are nearly as many people making videos about economics as there are gaming and film channels, many of which discuss topics related to children. I hope the FTC can take into account the creators intentions and provide warnings before fines so people can actually sort out their videos. I, for example, am a classical musician so I have learned to perform many lullabies, and use the lullabies posted on Youtube to learn the classical music. But they are lullabies which are intended for children by nature- the next time I need to find one of these will it be gone from Youtube? This is an example where a creator might not decide it was aimed at children because it is classical music- but if you see diferently, a warning would be better so they have time to correct it before they recieve a fine since the creator is likely a poor musician. Also, as part of the settlement Youtube is removing children's content from search results, but how are people supposed to find it? Neopets can be found on Google by searching and it is COPPA compliant. If this is a requirement from the FTC, it is too extreme and if it is not, the FTC should inform Youtube that this measure isn't necessary.
COPPA is flawed because it tries to sort what children are interested in into catagories and many of the things listed as appealing to children in the law are semi-outdated because the children it was written for are all adults now. COPPA has never really stopped kids from getting places they want to go, and it's important that the law doesn't hurt families (and therefore children) while trying to protect them.

Please be clear on your views for Gaming content. There are many creators who use games rated E for everyone to create content. Whether that may be in a competitive setting through a tournament or speedrun; in a creative setting, showcasing a thought out art design being created using a free form game; or a casual play through of a game to help those who have had a stressful day wind down and relax.

For example, Minecraft is a game rated E for everyone, but houses a large amount of content not directly aimed towards children. There are many instances of high level player vs player tournament style content, as well as high levels of voxel art and design pushing the limits of creativity and understanding, and plenty more who create content for those to enjoy an engaging story being made for them to disconnect from reality for awhile and relax.

Again, please reconsider your terms on Gaming as a whole and be more precise with your intent.

Thank you.

Is there a way you can put made for EVERYONE? because all my content IS made for EVERYONE.

if what I'm hearing is true this implementing this against youtube can put some people out of a job a lot of people make there living off of youtube and a fine of 42,000 is way too much for someone posting videos on the internet youtube was fine before and I really don't think we need to regulate it

There are animations that are for adults. Family Guy, South Park. As well as games that are for adults only. Doom, Diablo, and many more. So please be less vague in COPPA’s rules

I think these new changes don't help to prevent issues on Children Protection Act because there arw many ways to trick the age of children. They might put information that's not accurate, for example their ages. Parents should protect their own child because its their own responsibility in the first place, not the government. Its unfair for us, Youtube Creators

Please aproved youtube my channel

can you please just make It so we can say it is for all ages your causing a lot of panic on me thx <3

My content is for kids

I will protest this is not right they will kill families and destroy businesses the stuff they say is from 1998

The FTC has information to help you learn about COPPA. The Commission’s original COPPA Rule became effective on April 21, 2000.  Then, an amended Rule took effect on July 1, 2013. Because of rapid changes in technology, the FTC is evaluating the Rule in 2019.

This is unfair for content creators. Youtubers right now are unsure of what category their content is. The "Kids Content" category is too broad. Content creators will have to make a bet on every single video because of this.

Content creators that creates Kids Content will also love 80-90% of their ad revenue. This will surely demotivate and make the lives of those content creators hard. This will make the channels that create content for kids disappear and can't continue making content. Children will watch more "Adult Content" because of this.

Also, the 42k fine per video is absolutely ridicolous. Many content creators will go homeless. Please change the rules.

Dear Sir/Madam. If I am creator, with 10 thousand subscribtions and I'm talking to my teenager community, and I marking here, it isn't for kids, but I'm doing artwork, cartoon animations, and even gaming videos from Minecraft and describing my audience of "twelve" or "nine years old" for jokes to my strong bond community, do I need to be aware of a fee in the beginning of 2020 january? It can wipe out my entire family and destroy everything I've done for 6 years.
Sincerely,
Joseph

This blog explains that if the content on your channel is directed to children, and if the channel owner, or someone on the owner's 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.

The blog can help you decide if your content is directed to children under age 13.

i went to make my channel for kids

Hello, I made videos with my children.and beside I made videos about travel and event, information about things etc, thank u

What do I do if the video is for all ages like its neutral?

Hi I don't have any problem with COPPA But I would like to know how i can make that.if my content video made for kids or not. My channel talk about health specially for women and men.so I can say that my content video not made for kids thx.

I personally think that this whole thing is a bad Idea because a lot of people watch YouTube who are younger and will probably not have any thing to do on their free time and so many peoples lives will be ruined

Please don't go through with this, it will ruin everything youtube has built! Please reconsider

Why in Afghanistan we don’t have a YouTube partner

I think this will really be hard for some people to understand but my question is why don’t u guys make us choose the age of people should watch our videos and save it like my videos are about gaming and in my creator studio it says my viewers are 13 and above while others it says are 18-24 and other it says are 50-60 does it mean my videos are made for kids ?

Hi FTC,

What if any video on YouTube has swearing or other obscene scenes even if it also includes games, cartoon figures or others that are kid friendly content?

I understand very well that children, if they are very young under 13, cannot see, for example, violence or something sexual, but it must be understood that children will not always be children, they will grow up and see what they want when adolescence begins but it is the responsibility of children parents, not ours because we are not children that there are even many YouTubers who are not children but are not bad after all, like playing video games that do not express anything bad and children are not all friendly, some are rude because they were the parents of how they raised him
in fact there is something that I realized that there are children who have already realized this whole matter and do not like the idea because they like video games, parodies, action videos because they are already growing so they will not be children forever, you have to take that into account, there are also intelligent children which must be taken into account which show that they are growing.
We, as YouTubers, are not to blame for irresponsible parents and we understand it but they are their problems and we are not children to be pretending that everything is butterfly which children must also mature because reality is so but let's not be selfish just for money , we must understand that not everything is for children but we do not intend to hurt them because they grow up every day and learn new things but there are children who do not like this law because they restrict what they like and you do not have the right To tell us what things we should like or not because we have different, we all think different and that is the problem that puts us before all this.

So here's a hypothetical for you. A channel directed exclusively at babies, literally 0-1 year olds. These babies cannot use the device to browse to the content. It is their parents and carers that are the 'users' in this case, correct?
If such a channel could provide empirical evidence in the form of a survey of the audience that proves that the overwhelming majority of the audience that are 'in control' of the device while viewing the content are adults, is this channel illegally collecting personal data from children?

Please can u tell us how this applys to family vloggers who will vlog days out and hoildays these arent really aimed at kids but will watch

YouTube is very beautiful platforms and my passion for youtuber

I do not believe that this is a valid way to deal with Youtube's child advertising.
Youtube is a platform filled with millions of content creators where it is impossible to hand sift through it's contents to find anything that violates it's new laws. It depends on A.I. to do the heavy lifting, and that A.I. isn't exactly as reliable as they would have you believe.
If an A.I. has the ability to instantly fine anybody up to $42,530 dollars per video, it has the ability to wipe out families and companies over night, sending economies across the globe to come crashing down as a large amount of money, presumably in the billions would disappear from the bank accounts of thousands over night.

And just imagine the legal battles that would take place, court rooms would be filled with nothing but creators trying to get appeals in order to stay out of the poverty line.

It's not a good idea to fine an anonymous person on the internet any amount of money if it means sending thousands into debt.

It really is the worst strategy. If YouTube was simply required to ensure that any ad targeted at children didn't have tracking enabled that would solve it.

I mean think about it: The REAL issue is that ads are targeting children and following them across the internet, right? That's further reaching than YouTube. That includes Google search. Nothing outlined in this policy would go far enough to address that, but ads directed at children are easier to identify.

On television an ad can target children because the children are not tracked, so if this was the approach it wouldn't matter if your content targeted children.

The only remaining issue are the comments, but literally every streaming site has them, but if YouTube allowed parents to create sub accounts they can choose to allow children to comment or not satisfying COPPA.

The issue really is that I don't have any control over any of this, but am to be held responsible. Worse, my tax dollars will go to policing the internet instead of just holding Google responsible to common sense standards.

How are channels supposed to be compliant if they don't have control over their audience? the intended audience isn't necessarily the audience they get and content creators may make their content 'child-friendly' but it's still not always meant for children. The internet isn't something you can make broad laws on when it's so nuanced and so many people's lives depend on it. People need to learn how the internet really works before they make changes that affect the entirety of the world.

Video creators can’t control what kids watch, I don’t understand why we’re getting punished for something that we have no control over. There are gaming and unboxing videos that are not kid friendly at all, but you guys say it is, so it is. We have no control and there is nothing we can do about the subject at hand. Please read this and consider looking into it more. Thank you!

This has gone way too far. My apologies, but this idea is probably one of the worst ideas I have heard of so far. A lot of people who gain money from making youtube videos are going to be affected. A lot of lives are going to be ruined. Eventually YouTube is going to start losing a lot of users. Most of the kids on YouTube don't watch kid-friendly things. Instead, they actually watch whatever they want. It's not YouTube's fault for this. Parents are at fault. Parents are the one who allow their kids to do whatever they want on YouTube. I hope you make some changes and don't go too crazy on this. This is just going to repeat itself on other video-sharing websites. Have a wonderful day (if you're reading this)

Thank you SO much for this. Though it still seems a little broad, it still put me at ease.

So many people were freaking out about this because MANY YouTuber I watch direct their content to everyone. However, would this include those who play videogames that could be made for kids? I know plenty of people who play games like Minecraft that cuss A L O T in their videos.

But thanks again! YouTube gave us all little explanations to what was made for kids and what was not. But please make this better understandable for those who don't understand!!

This is an unenforceable litigious nightmare that really only benefits Disney. The FTC can't seem to put a dent in the billions of monthly robocalls we collectively receive, but they apparently have no problem swiftly destroying the livelihood of thousands of content creators. Bravo.

Since the definition of child attractive it's so broad, I think that before people are fined, they should get a warning and maybe about 30 to 60 days to come into compliance of the COPPA law.
There are several content creators that have characters that children can like and action figures/toys in their videos but they are not targeting children under 13. But the videos are still for a general audience because YouTube wants us to make our videos family friendly and not have a bunch of violence and cursing. Or because these people have family who watch them and they don't want to be disrespectful.
A lot of people aren't intentionally breaking the law so a warning would be awesome. Some of my friends who are grown adults who has been sharing their geek (Nerd, pop culture) life with the world and have over 3,000 videos. When I found those videos I never for once thought that only kids under 13 year old would be watching them.

How about just stop the data mining all together so that we can stop being marketing targets. That would resolve this whole thing. I don't think this covers the crafting community where things are made for kids by adults, so making toys and dolls, where does that fall?? Teaching a craft, where does that fall?? Specifics please.

Because if they stop the data mining altogether neither creators nor YouTube will make enough money to stay in business. So either you pay for the service or get it for free in exchange for your data being collected.

I think that my content is made for kids cause I’m funny and I don’t cuss and if the song I’m using cusses I blurt it out or I just don’t make my avatar say it

I want to know if you are clear that Japanese anime is not childish content at all, and don't confuse it

Unfortunately the wording is too ambiguous. For example my 10 year old nephew watches painting videos not aimed at children but interesting to children ... he enjoys them and has improved his painting skills dramatically! There are many crafting and hobby channels on YouTube that are interesting to children but not aimed at them eg. Crafting (patchwork, scrapbooking, painting etc.) some children may like to watch but which do involve needles, varnish etc. Also game playing or collectibles. There should be an option like 'Mixed audience/parental advisory'. Surely parents have to take some responsibility for their under 13 year old children. If this goes ahead in it's present form You Tube will have no family friendly content and will become a cesspool of extreme 'adult' content!

Please don't let this go through, it has so many flaws. It will only hurt everyone.

Coppa is way too strict and vague it needs to be repealed or updated immediately

youtube is the best of life for enjoy

The description of what is considered child content is too vague. For example I crate videos which feature model trains and not toy trains. Manufacturers of model trains such as Lionel have recommended ages of 14 & up printed on the boxes. If I go by this then my videos are not targets at kids which is 13 and under. However does the FTC define a difference between a toy and a model or even a difference between a chillds toy and adult collectible. I ran the lifetime statics on my YouTube channel and no one under 18 has viewed it. Also why disable comments on YouTube. I have mine set to approve so I screen every comment to make sure it is appropriate to show up. Why can't YouTube put a age barrier program in place so ads and data won't be retrieved by any viewers who are 13 and under? Basically the way YouTube has changed the rules the channels marked made for kids content won't be promoted, will have comments disabled and notifications removed. This has ended pretty much any channel that depends on YouTube for money or promoting a hobby.

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