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

My son is 16 and autistic. He is in bits over this change. Utube is his gateway to socialisation ......his only way of comfortably communicating. He is devastated that many of his favourite utubers are no longer going to make videos and feel that his life is over. Before you go making changes think of the way this will affect people like my son who rely heavily on the internet. He literally cannot concentrate on anything but the potential negative outcome this change will impose on utube and the millions of utubers who use it. This is not a simple rule change to him and there is nothing i can say or do to help him. This change is affecting his school work and his entire life and although this may sound silly and stupid to most, until you have walked in his shoes and understand how the mind of someone affected with autism this really is life changing for him and not in a positive way.

When the FTC does something like COPPA, they don't realize that it will pretty much DESTROY millions of lives. Please FTC, add an option for "Mixed Audience/All Ages Content/Parental Advisory for videos that use the things that qualify as "For Kids" but also do other things.

Special care needs to be taken that video game-related content is not unfairly targeted. Just because someone is streaming a game intended for children does NOT mean the channel is made for or intended for children. Many adult YouTubers enjoy playing games from their childhood, but use adult humor and language. This does not make the channel content made for children.

I would like to say that, could you please make the rules more understandable and not so vague? Like for example, you have been saying that gaming content is directed towards kids, but it is not kids who watch it. Gaming content should not be labeled as kids content. It should be mature content.

There is literally a YouTube Kids app. That's where kids need to be going to watch videos that are directed to children. If parents, guardians, or caretakers allow children on the main YouTube website, they need to be responsible enough to monitor what those children are watching.
By potentially punishing YouTube content creators you would also punishing their audiences. I am a grandparent, and 99% of the channels I subscribe to are probably considered directed to children based on your definition.

In order to interact with YouTube videos you need an account. I just tried to set up a new YouTube account using the year 2009 for my birth year, and I was immediately denied. YouTube isn't intended for kids under 13. Please quit punishing the entire YouTube community for irresponsible parents, guardians, or caretakers.

I'm not a US citizen. How do you really intend on enforcing these rules in countries where the FTC has no jurisdiction?

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. 

It's not fair to all of the creators that earn a living on youtube. Where are all the family friendly content is going to go? If it's YouTube Kids, just please make a upload button. There are millions and millions going to quit. It's the parents fault of their kids are watching YouTube. Also, if your video have badwords, and animated characters, is it still family friendly? I don't want to go and pay 42k for just a family friendly video. Thank you.

_chainedsecrets_

Please it has to be for everyone it's not just for kids everyone's channels need something right we need to fix this all.

My problem with COPPA and YouTube is that not all videos that this law would count as made for kids may not be intended for children to watch. A video from a YouTuber who is at Disneyland, sees Disney characters, but goes around trying different alcoholic drinks could still be marked as made for kids because it had cartoon characters and colorful backgrounds in it. Please consider adding a general audience option as well. I understand COPPA is intended to protect kids but kids will watch whatever they can find on YouTube if parents are not being parents.

What if an animation has censored cursing- or blood, is it still for kids? And also- what about YouTube kids- it's the parents who need to watch their kids!

I have 3 questions:
1) Even if it isn't directed for kids, how in the world are, even you guys, able to track everything to check and see if it is a child-safe idea WITHOUT "spying" or tracking every single thing that everyone does anywhere in the world. For all I can see, you are saying that this is going into heavy consideration over YouTube and Google. Both are very broad and are really difficult to understand not just because of content, but because of each country, language, and content. Take this example:Say I am from Germany making content for kids, do I follow COPPA, which is American Made? Do I get fined?
2) Because of how content is made, how do we follow COPPA if I don't track their emails or anything else without breaking the security of the people?
Theoretically, you would need a software to track every single movement on these two majorly used programs, determining what their age is, who they are, and what sites they are tracking. This would also mean that if someone was an "adult" and was an actual kid, you would need a hardware device connected to the program, but that would mean that would be exposing your terms of privacy. Because YouTube said that there may be kids that might watching the more adult-topic sections, that would mean that YouTube is aware of the problem, but can't do a thing about it because there is no way of tracking them.
3) YouTubers all are trying their best to show what their ads are and what aren't by going off topic. Even my younger sister, says that she notices the ads and doesn't want any of it because the YouTuber said so. She wants it because she likes it, and the same can be said for many kids. In fact, the parents usually will be asked if the kids can buy something if it is said by the YouTubers because most of the kids think that their parents can buy them everything they want. And that isn't illegal on anyone's portion. I can understand if people are showing advertisements involving certain content that the kids might like because they aren't targeting them, so who is really the "advertisers" that you are speaking of?

I would like you to consider this next time before you put this act into effect and question yourselves about any other major topics that seem to be concerning to the rights of the people.

If you are a channel owner, when you upload a video to YouTube that is "directed to children," you will use the mechanism YouTube and Google created to label that video. 

How can you determine if what you upload to YouTube or other platforms is “directed to children"? There is no one-size-fits-all answer about what makes a site directed to children. If your intended audience is kids under 13, you’re covered by COPPA.

This blog has more information to help you. And, the complaint in the YouTube case offers examples of channels the FTC considered to be directed to children. Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint.

Something to understand, specifically referencing animation channels, is that sponsors are usually a very helpful way to discern whether a channel is geared towards kids. (Note: sponsers differ from adverts due to sponsers directly reaching out to the person(s) operating the channel and paying them to make a statement about a product they've been paid to endorse. Automatic ads provided by YouTube work differently. For more information on advertisements verses sponsers, contacting YouTube directly would be ideal.) For example, if a channel has a lot of color and is discussing something that would normally be considered "kid-oriented" has a VPN (network security) sponsers, it may be directed more towards a young adult audience. On the other, if a channel has a sponsor such as a mobile app on a video with a lot of child targeted content, it could be subject the new changes.

I am grateful FTC is reviewing the coppa law and hope its updated version will be easier for us the small business owners of our channels to implement.
Please consider the fact the law need to be updated so that getting parents cosent via email or site/platform signup is possible, such change will be easy for youtube to implement.

Many creators need the target ad revenue to have incentives to continue their program channels and 1 person operation should not be subjected to the same kind of punishment that is meant to dish out to a giant corperation.

Thank you FTC for showing creators precisely what is happening.

I have some concerns regarding gaming on YouTube and especially for creators who make content on Nintendo games. Nintendo makes a lot of games aimed towards kids but are also enjoyed by teens and adults and many creators make content on Nintendo's games that weren't intended for children to watch but may seem that way. For instance, various videos I have made are on the game Super Smash Bros, and they contain swearing and profanity. These videos are clearly not for kids, but the game itself is. I'm not the type of person to swear often so some of my videos don't have any swearing in them, but I don't think these videos are really meant for kids still. When I speak, I'm not speaking in a tone meant for children I'm just being myself. I also refer to the characters as "dead" or "killed" when they're defeated which is clearly not child-friendly talk. I'm worried that Nintendo YouTubers such as myself are going to have problems when it comes to making content aimed towards an older audience who enjoy games more aimed towards kids.

So if we mark our content as not for kids will we receive a penalty?

I understand that COPPA is going under affect and is used to protect children under the age of 13 but that's what YouTube Kids was made for and it protects children that can't make a Google account. YouTube its self is made for 13+ hense that's why you have to make a Google Account. I think COPPA is a bad idea because when a creator makes content they have to make thumbnail relating to their video hense most of the content on YouTube has got some sort cartoon character or celebrities or game affiliated with but the content is made for mainly young adults and kids of age 13+ with a parents permission. YouTube is a job and most of the content creators are make a living off of making videos and if the law goes into affect, people are at risk of losing millions of dollars and could potentially lose their jobs over not saying whether the videos they are intended for children or not. I feel like charging someone $42,000 per video, if they do not comply with this new law is a little bit excessive, because that's a YouTuber's yearly salary.

Chanel’s like Jake Paul are not kid friendly however advertise to young kids

this is just a money grab put fines on content creators

I find the distinctions indistinct. If one says, It's not intended for children even if no salacious content is included, is one liable for fines if a child watches (for example) a show about animals and an animal is hurt, and a child watching this is upset? When are parents and guardians of children to be held responsible rather than the creato of a nature show. Is the shows creator held harmless if there is a disclaimer at the start? Maybe even newscast or news conference should begin with a like disclaimer as much of that content is incendiary, disingenuous, and vacuous. This is overreach.

Your going to make so many people homeless....your going to blame innocent people.... Your going sfter the wrong people...

Many peoples lives will be affected if you do this please reconsider

Yes, all my videos are for children also

Hello I don’t get if my channe is made for kids or not I read the rules but I don’t unsterdend them can y’all explain them please

You’re basically destroying YouTube which could make 25 million people go homeless, plus it’s not YouTubes fault because kids are watching YouTube It’s more of the parents fault For letting them use.It to please I tell you please stop this or else open the rules up so it’s not so strict.By the way you know your are making yourself look like a fool.So please stop this I know YouTube downloaded data on children but it was an accident.Remember this and really mean it every person makes a mistake, No matter how smart or dum, making mistakes is how us as humans learn.

What about YouTube kids?

I believe that what you are doing is wrong, YouTube is a social media where people can make money off of videos for a living based on what each channel on there is made for, for the entertainment of others, where people can learn things, and what is going on in the world. Youtube is fine how it is, if there's anotherthing you can change is Youtube kids, YouTube kids is for more safer use, Google needs shut down on gathering data to PREVENT taking advantage of COPPA and come up with the policey to restrict the children under the age of 14 year old. You can't change the entire YouTube media in a well-organized society because of what people do for a living, age restrictions before signing in youtube is a better solution, make YouTube kids into something new and shut down its collecting. Do what is best for everyone so they can make living today

Hello.
This ruling is extremely stupid! Shutting down channels because they are appealing to children is so stupid. I watch videos on semi trucks, airplanes and building plastic models. All of those things are appealing to children!!! But all are to be operated by adults! A child can watch a video about a bulldozer, but would not be able to operate a bulldozer!!! FTC needs to monitor seriously harmful stuff on the internet, like porn! Not YouTube videos on stuff.
Wake up FTC and do what is right!!!

I remain unclear on how a YouTube channel/content creator can possible get affirmative consent from a parent before their child can view videos. Doesn't the account holder consent to that in the Terms and Agreements section when they sign up? And wouldn't that be part of YouTube's responsibility to filter regular videos from YouTube from appearing in YouTube Kids? How can content creators stop their videos aimed at adults from being labeled as "Child content"? For example, the movie Deadpool is based on a comic book character. The film was rated R (restricted to adults by definition), how would a review of the movie be listed? Is it for kids because it was based off of a comic book? I'd argue no it's not because of the gore, violence and language in both the comic books and movies. The parents, however, might not agree with my perspective and allow their children to view such a review. In this scenario, the content creator is not targeting the child, but the parent's permissiveness or lack of due diligence allows children to see it. Can the content creator be liable under COPPA because they reviewed something that is rated R but a parent didn't know or care or supervise what their child is consuming? This could easily happen if the parent allows a child to use their account to view YouTube, despite the content creator's efforts to label their material as being made for adults. How can the content creator self-censor against permissive or irresponsible behavior?

Also, content creators have no control over any of the data or other analytics that are collected by Google or AdSense. I could find no opt-in or opt-out for such data collection or storage. That is all done by Google without user input or control as far as I could tell. Goggle collects generalized information and puts it under Analytics on the dashboard, but users can not opt out of receiving that information. Further, that is very generalized demographics, not IP address or other personal data. Often, the analytics feature is inaccurate, unavailable, or even misleading. So, how can channel "owners" and content creators stop something that is done automatically without their input, consent, or control? AdSense is the only advertising option through YouTube that allows you to earn money through ads. What ads are played is chosen by YouTube and maybe by AdSense. I've never had or even heard of AdSense sharing personal information, IP address, or even demographics with content creators.

As for the comment sections, how can any content creator control what anyone of any age puts in the comment section? If a child is logged in under a parent's account or simply lies about their age, how would a content creator know this, deter it, or stop it? This is true of any forum, bulletin board, review site like Yelp! or even product reviews on Amazon. Isn't this just a way of silencing the opinions of viewers who want to express their opinions because someone MIGHT reveal personal information that may or may not be real?

As a 48 yr old man i have always enjoyed 2 things. Cartoons (including anime) and video games. I find it ridiculous how vague you have made your rules regarding youtube content. Mayhaps when attempting to make rules that would ruin content creators income (jobs) it would be wise to have someone advising you on the INSANE amount of content that you obviously do not understand. Thank you for reading this. KUTTR-

Video games such as Pokémon, Minecraft, and Fortnite appeals to a wide range of ages that includes very young children to young adults. How can we trust you won't punish content creators for making videos about these games or similar subjects such as some cartoons, books, movies, etc?

For example a video on the viability of a Pokemon in competitive play is hopefully obviously not made for young children, something like "Top 5 best Pokémon" could be made a general audience that includes but isn't exclusively child under 13.

Coppa fails to recognize that model train, Disney, and the high end toy markets are directed to adult customers and that parents should be responsible for what they children watch on YouTube.

This is causing great concern for both the creators and users of YouTube tutorials for things like face painting and balloon twisting. Either YouTube is trying to ditch these creators or they are not appropriately setting up options. From the explanation you provide it sounds like these creators could be given an educational type and YouTube could then apply appropriate ads to those sites. It needs to be clear who is creating the confusion. I don’t know a single balloon artist or face painter who could afford a $42,000 fine.

What if youtubers videos are made for children and teenagers as well?

As a content creator, of the smaller kind. I wish for COPPA to have YouTube make an all adults type of thing so not all content gets to disappear. Please dont take what some of us grew up with away. Please

Agree. They must also consider gender, according to studies Girls become teenagers at the age of 11-13 while boys are 13-14. Also THEY MUST consider age is not the mind. I wasnt childish after 3 yet was my brother, while some of my realitives say that they were so childish until 12 as well.

The responsibility is solely on the shoulders of the youtube content creators. So, do the content creators siphon off the data belonging to children? Do they mine the IP addresses? No, Youtube does. Yet, the responsibility and blame is on the content creators instead of the platform that takes advantage of the cookies and profits from it. Though this is moot. Children shouldn't even be on Youtube. The apps are for 17+ and to even have a Youtube or Google account, the owner has to be 13+. So, children under 13 on the platform are in violation. The owners of those accounts that allow their children to watch content on Youtube are in violation and should have their accounts removed. End of story. Get rid of the children. They are a liability to our entertainment. Youtube is not a babysitting service. That's what Youtube Kids is for.

YouTube is also not a babysitting service for creators. Every single person, creators or not, has an individual responsibility to comply with laws. YouTube is simply providing creators with the tools they need to comply with this particular law. And no one is blaming the creators or putting the sole responsibility on them. As a matter of fact, YouTube is doing all these changes, that help creators to comply with COPPA, free of charge.

Tell that to the $42,000 fine on content creators

Free of charge? You mean wrongfully flagging videos and then getting fined $42,000? How nice of them. "Oh no, we don't want to get in trouble. Here, let's make it their fault."

I think you shouldn’t do it and just have kid go on YouTube kids

I and many other channels are concerned about COPPA effecting our content. We are doing videos with an app called Gacha Life. We make lots of skits and music videos among various different things. We show our arts if some choose to do so, but we are concerned because our content might catch the eye of children even though most of us aren't intending our audience to be children and put "13+" along side some videos. I just wanted to state this because we range in different ages.

I also have a question, how does coppa effect others who aren't getting paid for videos. Does it effect them the same or is there a difference. Please let me know and others cause this would be a big help to possibly calm down the panic going across YouTube and in the communities.

The one who will be enforcing the Rule is YouTube and not the FTC, correct? YouTube plans to use their algorithm to enforce whether a video is “for kids” or not. This algorithm has not proven to be reliable and I fear that many channels that should not apply to COPPA will be incorrectly categorized as such. I hope that the FTC can find a way to prevent what will most likely become the senseless massacre of many innocent content creators.

If I play video games that look cartoony or fun but I swear whilst recording such games will it be for Adult content or Kids content

This is not going to be good for creators! Please reevaluate this and think of the creators point of view on this!

I'm still feeling a vagueness to the explanation of what constitutes a violation of the COPPA rules. I have mostly cute videos of my cats, but never intended it for children. Though, the videos would certainly be enjoyable for all ages. I have no advertising or monetization on my videos. How do the COPPA rules apply to channels like mine, where there are cat and gardening videos, just for fun, but no monetization?

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