YouTube channel owners: Is your content directed to children?

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Under COPPA, how do I know if my channel is “directed to children”? Since the FTC and New York Attorney General announced their September 2019 settlement with YouTube for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule, we’ve heard that question from channel owners – sometimes called content creators. If you’re a channel owner who shares content on user-generated platforms like YouTube, read on for FTC staff guidance about the applicability of the COPPA Rule and how those covered by the Rule can comply with its requirements.

The FTC action against YouTube and Google

The lawsuit against YouTube and Google alleged that the companies illegally collected personal information from children, in violation of COPPA. According to the complaint, the companies collected that information from viewers of child-directed YouTube channels in the form of persistent identifiers that track users across the Internet, but didn’t notify parents and get their consent. To settle the case, YouTube and Google agreed to create a mechanism so that channel owners can designate when the videos they upload to YouTube are – to use the words of COPPA – “directed to children.” The purpose of this requirement is to make sure that both YouTube and channel owners are complying with the law.

A COPPA recap

That provision of the settlement has raised questions among content creators about how to determine if what they upload to YouTube or other platforms is “directed to children.” The answer requires a brief summary of some key COPPA provisions. Passed by Congress in 1998, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is a federal law that protects the privacy of children under 13. COPPA’s foundational principle is one that most people can agree on: Parents – not kids, companies, platforms, or content creators – should be in control when it comes to information collected from children online.

The FTC enforces the law through the COPPA Rule. In general, COPPA requires operators of commercial websites and online services that are directed to children (more about that in a minute) to provide notice and obtain verifiable parental consent before they collect personal information from kids under 13.

The COPPA Rule defines “personal information” to include obvious things like a child’s first and last name or home address, but that’s not all. Under COPPA, personal information also covers what are called persistent identifiers – behind-the-scenes code that recognizes a user over time and across different sites or online services. That could be an IP address or a cookie when it’s used to serve targeted ads. Keep in mind that an operator also might be collecting personal information through an open comment field on its site or service that allows a user under 13 to make personal information publicly available. For example, think of a comment like this on a child-directed site: My name is Mary Jones from Springfield. I love this video!

How COPPA applies to channel owners

So how does COPPA apply to channel owners who upload their content to YouTube or another third-party platform? COPPA applies in the same way it would if the channel owner had its own website or app. If a channel owner uploads content to a platform like YouTube, the channel might meet the definition of a “website or online service” covered by COPPA, depending on the nature of the content and the information collected. If the content is directed to children and if the channel owner, or someone on its behalf (for example, an ad network), collects personal information from viewers of that content (for example, through a persistent identifier that tracks a user to serve interest-based ads), the channel is covered by COPPA. Once COPPA applies, the operator must provide notice, obtain verifiable parental consent, and meet COPPA’s other requirements. For information on how to comply with COPPA, please visit the FTC’s COPPA page for our Six-Step Compliance Plan for Your Business.

How channel owners can determine if their content is directed to children

Under COPPA, there is no one-size-fits-all answer about what makes a site directed to children, but we can offer some guidance. To be clear, your content isn’t considered “directed to children” just because some children may see it. However, if your intended audience is kids under 13, you’re covered by COPPA and have to honor the Rule’s requirements.

The Rule sets out additional factors the FTC will consider in determining whether your content is child-directed:

  • the subject matter,
  • visual content,
  • the use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives,
  • the kind of music or other audio content,
  • the age of models,
  • the presence of child celebrities or celebrities who appeal to children,
  • language or other characteristics of the site,
  • whether advertising that promotes or appears on the site is directed to children, and
  • competent and reliable empirical evidence about the age of the audience.

The determination of whether content is child-directed will be clearer in some contexts than in others, but we can share some general rules of thumb. First, unless you’re affirmatively targeting kids, there are many subject matter categories where you don’t have to worry about COPPA. For example, if your videos are about traditionally adult activities like employment, finances, politics, home ownership, home improvement, or travel, you’re probably not covered unless your content is geared toward kids. The same would be true for videos aimed at high school or college students. On the other hand, if your content includes traditional children’s pastimes or activities, it may be child-directed. For example, the FTC recently determined that an online dress-up game was child-directed.

Second, just because your video has bright colors or animated characters doesn’t mean you’re automatically covered by COPPA. While many animated shows are directed to kids, the FTC recognizes there can be animated programming that appeals to everyone.

Third, the complaint in the YouTube case offers some examples of channels the FTC considered to be directed to children. For example, many content creators explicitly stated in the “About” section of their YouTube channel that their intended audience was children under 13. Other channels made similar statements in communications with YouTube. In addition, many of the channels featured popular animated children’s programs or showed kids playing with toys or participating in other child-oriented activities. Some of the channel owners also enabled settings that made their content appear when users searched for the names of popular toys or animated characters. Want to see the FTC’s analysis in context? Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint.

Finally, if you’ve applied the factors listed in the COPPA Rule and still wonder if your content is “directed to children,” it might help to consider how others view your content and content similar to yours. Has your channel been reviewed on sites that evaluate content for kids? Is your channel – or channels like yours – mentioned in blogs for parents of young children or in media articles about child-directed content? Have you surveyed your users or is there other empirical evidence about the age of your audience?

What are the possible penalties for violating COPPA?

The Rule allows for civil penalties of up to $42,530 per violation, but the FTC considers a number of factors in determining the appropriate amount, including a company’s financial condition and the impact a penalty could have on its ability to stay in business. While Google and YouTube paid $170 million, in another COPPA case settled this year, the operator paid a total civil penalty of $35,000.

Isn’t the FTC taking another look at the COPPA Rule?

Yes, the FTC is currently evaluating the Rule in light of rapid changes in technology. If you would like to comment on the effectiveness of the COPPA Rule and whether changes are needed, the FTC has extended the comment deadline to December 9, 2019.

Where can channel owners go for more information?

A look at the factors in the COPPA Rule will help most channel owners determine if their content is directed to children. If you’re still unsure about how COPPA applies to you, consider contacting an attorney or consulting with one of the COPPA Safe Harbor programs – self-regulatory groups that offer guidance on how operators can comply with the law. Visit the FTC’s website for a list of currently approved Safe Harbor organizations. For more resources, visit the FTC’s Children’s Privacy page for our Six-Step Compliance Plan for Your Business.

 
 
 

Comments

i have seen your email and would like to say... No my content is not for kids, sure i have plush videos but... Take my Kirbys Adventure pt. 3 it involves use of fake cocaine (its sugar) and that may not be suitable for children. I only have 110+ subs and i doubt many kids watch my content. Again, my content is not for kids. I hope this confirms my non child friendly content.

Parents should be the ones responsible for what kids see and do on youtube, not the content creators.

Sooo how long will “COPPA” last, will It be forever?

This is stupid. Plain and simple.

I understand children's online privacy needs to be protected, but a $42,000 is excessive. With only vague instructions for determining if content is child-friendly or not, infractions seem very likely. And one minor infraction could cause a fine so large it permanently ruins someone's life.

The "Made for Children" or "Not made for Children" is too vague. I'm still in a gray zone. Some of my content is friendly, some of it is not and most my audience are women between 18 and 35. For who my content is made for? You have only one solution, create a third category: MIXED UP AUDIENCE!

it is not youtubes fault that kids use the app for grown-ups, thats why theres youtube kids, please ftc think about what you are doing

great to see you’re more lenient with us than we thought

now if only you can tell that to youtube

Think about it some people don't have actual jobs and make money on YouTube what about those people plz think about what you're doing FTC.

The reason this rule is one of the worst things out there is because if you ever went on YouTube kids it’s absolutely boring no wonder kids don’t use it the only things on there are dead minecraft youtubers peppa pig and nursery songs and your expecting that 10-12 year olds should watch it you can’t even listen to music on it or pink panther which is considered kid content you should be making a new rule where parents have control of what there kids are watching for example like a tab they decide if they can watch gaming or drawing videos or not and if the kid were to watch a gaming video it should send a notification to the parents and they can decide if they will let them watch it or not and if not it should just say “mom does not let you watch” or something but please reconsider this whole new rule and system.

This is still a bit vague. what about channels that post videos of their pets and other animals? They are for all ages not just kids. Sure kids watch pet channels or animal rescue channels but so do adults and teens. What about games that look like would be for kids but let's say someone swears in them and it contains mature themes?

Protecting children's privacy is something we can all agree on, but a lot of the rules are NOT clear at all. What if someone has a gaming video with a cartoon character, but they swear in the commentating? Or if the game has cartoon characters but is actually violent? Should it be marked as for kids, or not? Please clarify the rules and also think about how this will affect not only families, but also the kids. Because there will end up being WAY less family-friendly content on YouTube. I, myself have not made a dime from YT, and am a very small channel, but should I be worried about what each of my videos are marked as??? Please at least reconsider clarifying the rules, for everyone's sake. Thank you for your time.

I am a small time YouTube content created and all my videos are pg and pg13 yes they have toys and video games but my videos are not aimed at kids.

coppa & the ftc should look @ into this more before the new year of 2020 begins because youtube as been around since 2005 & everyday everyone uploades content its not fair to make people pay a fine or choose a type of content that kids or parents see if that person who created youtube in the frist place who frist uploaded his content & how it is today & a lot of time & effort gose into a video ok yes there can be a lot of swearing in the videos sometimes but not all channels need to have a content rating look @ netfilx they have 2 didffernt settings in there apps that they didn't before why not do sompthing like that for yotube it makes it easier that way or have youtube create a new version of youtube that is just for kids under 13 it makes more sence if you belive it think about it before janurary 1st 2020.

FTC - stop pretending this is about protecting kids. This is another example of out of touch boomers being afraid of technology they don’t understand and which they see as a threat to their dying way of life. It’s a new world and kids are way smarter than you were when you were kids. They understand sponsorship and endorsements. This is really about TV dying and YouTubers being the new powerhouses of entertainment. You can try to keep us creators down, but you’re going to fail. Sure, you’ll start by restricting one genre to ‘protect the kids’ and then it will be another, and another, but you better believe we’re taking notes. We see you. And your time as lying bullies is limited. We stand for freedom, creation and inclusion.

We're getting better. Just a few more clarifications and we'll be a happy community. Thanks for definitely clearing up the fine. Most of us don't make that much in a year on YouTube.

Please specify clearly about kids content , what if kids accidentally included in the videos?

I would like to how the FTC can possibly fine non US Youtubers as I'm pretty sure the youtubers don't /won't recognise their authority as they don't have jurisdiction in a non US country regardless of YouTube/Google being a US company this whole thing has bad idea written all over it

Foreign-based websites and online services must comply with COPPA if they are directed to children in the United States, or if they knowingly collect personal information from children in the U.S.

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

What about the channels on Youtube that are meant for both adults and children to enjoy their content? Animation, craft, doll making, and even "story time" channels are a form of creative and inspiring art - will this law create a restriction on well-meaning artists who want to share their work with others and the viewers who enjoy viewing said art? What about gaming channels, who provide gameplay, strategy, content, or even just discussion on games that also appeal to children? For example, Pokemon is a universally adored franchise that falls under many of the categories set by COPPA for ways to "identify" a child-oriented video. Colorful, with animated characters, appealing music, characters - adults can enjoy this content too!! As an adult, I find the lines COPPA has drawn for identifying child-directed content are way too vague, and channels who aren't even aiming to target children are going to be brought under fire by all of this. So many creators will lose their jobs, and many people will lose something they love - whether it be a channel they enjoy watching, or someone's livelihood. While I believe that it is not YouTube's sole responsibility to ensure that children are not watching things they shouldn't be watching, it is important to make sure that there is a solid barrier to entry on the main site (whether it be ensuring those under 13 cannot use YouTube main, or having a parent make an account and allow their child to use it.) All in all, this law NEEDS to be changed in order to protect the content we love and to help content creators better understand what it really means to be a "child-directed" channel. Please listen to what we, the viewers, have to say as well as what they, the content creators, have to say about this. This issue is very important to many, MANY people.

The decision to "turn on COPPA" for YouTube is about 14-15 years too late. If a 13 year old in 2005 (when youtube was released) wasnt subject to these protections, those children are now voting age adults; meanwhile kids since their own conception have been using youtube their entire life without issue. While children's privacy is important, the way to go about it in the modern day is not honoring a law that's as old as my college aged younger brother.

Just stop. There is already a for kids youtube and the for kids youtube should get violations not the content creators already having trouble with getting money from youtube. Stop making it HARDER TO LIVE AS A CONTENT CREATOR ALREADY STRESSED OUT ABOUT YOUTUBE.

My youtube channel is 100% directed to kids, we are a team of song writers, cartoonists, audio producers, singers, musicians, animators who all will lose their jobs if we can’t monetize the videos that we have been doing since 6 years ago with more than 2M subscibers.
We have bills and we have kids (those you claim to protect) and we are losing much more than just ads
Hope you reconsider

Parents should have controlled their children better,we content creators are not babysitters! YouTube has a side app called YouTube Kids!

Youtube has given content creators an option in their channel settings to label videos, but they leave out a needed option, and I'm concerned about how COPPA will apply because of that. Here are the current settings options as written:

"Do you want to set your channel as made for kids?

Regardless of your location, you're legally required to comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and/or other laws. You're required to tell us whether your videos are made for kids. What's content made for kids?

[checkmark box] Yes, set this channel as made for kids. I always upload content that's made for kids.

Features like personalized ads, notifications and channel memberships won't be available on channels made for kids. Videos that are set as made for kids are more likely to be recommended alongside other kids' videos. Learn more

[checkmark box] No, set this channel as not made for kids. I never upload content that's made for kids.

[checkmark box] I want to review this setting for every video."

As you can see, there is an option to label videos as "for kids" or "not for kids." But what about general audiences? Videos intended to appeal to both children and adults? Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with this missing label option? How does COPPA apply here?

Also, what about channels/videos that feature mature topics, but use children's media as examples to help the audience better understand the subject matter? There are quite a number of those which are targeted towards high schoolers and college students. Such as, for example: using the video game Minecraft to explore economics. Or using the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to examine social issues, philosophy, and psychology. Or using a boss battle from the video game Dark Souls to explain aspects of classical music. Yes, those are real examples of videos I have found on youtube and quite enjoy them. Do you have any suggestions for how creators of such content should handle the COPPA situation given their limited options made available by youtube?

Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you.

Would my channel be affected by coppa i do gachalife vids but in some of my videos may say a few bad words

Does FTC realize the impact this law on Google and Youtube? This'll wipe out big chunks of content because it's "appealing to kids!!" Along with other types of content containing sports, or bright colors, child appealing brands. MUSIC, and animated characters. It'll definitely reduce the money Youtube gets as well.

You're making the assumption that they care

They don't they only care about the profit Also they aren't just affecting America they are affecting the world and that is illegal

this is a bad thing

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

my channel is perfectly fine for kids to watch, you can even go over my videos if you wish but just saying...in my vlogs, IM ugly so be careful

COPPA is inherently flawed because websites don’t do anything to truly verify the age of their users. It is impossible to enforce justifiably unless these changes are made:

1. Children can fabricate their age and credentials when signing up on any website. Thus it is necessary to collect personal digital information in order to block or restrict access to a minor who otherwise fabricated their age.

2. IP addresses themselves are useless as a household uses just one. Collecting individual device MAC Addresses would be the only way to determine age of an individual through a lot of back tracing.

3. It is not up to the individual uploader (like in the case of YouTube) to be responsible for what they upload outside of the terms of service. YouTube has a secondary site called YouTube kids. It is their responsibility to segregate, and categorize creators, and their content to their respective places (Youtube, or YouTube kids.) and not allow access to standard YouTube to anyone under 13 (See 1, and 2.) or crossover between sites.

Have swearing?Your demonitized! Have no swearing?Your demonitized! Have child friendly content?Your demonitized! Have adult content?Your demonitized! DO THEY WANT TOO MAKE SENSE ANY TIME SOON???

Good job COPPA, you’re making the world more homeless and less creative please FIX IT

Parents should be the ones responsible for what their children see on the Internet. YouTube is a 13+ site so if children younger than that get on the site then it's the parent's responsibility. YouTube was never meant for young children and it's obvious considering that most content creators are older teens and adults creating content for their respective age groups.

specifics please, being vague is very confusing and it seems as if nothing entertaining is allowed to be posted. literally sucking the fun out if it. LITERALLY

Still absolutely vague. We need specific definitive guidelines. You use words like "may" and "can" and "might". People's lives are at stake here, you can't just use these broad guidelines and expect people to know where their content stands. There should be absolutely zero room for different interpretations. And also, content creators shouldn't be considered as "operators" of a site because we have no power over Google's collection of data. We aren't the ones collecting data, it makes no sense.

The thing is, since youtube is such a wide plat from, it can be extremely difficult to create exact guidlines and what does and doesnt count. If they happen to make it more specific, there will be much more chances for channels to slip over the line either way and we will still have a problem.

They leave it vague like that as an open loophole. That way they can pick and choose who to actually harass. Saying it like that, they sound like bullies.

So will they possibly be taking down those channels directed toward children and also if you take down ads directed toward children what will actually happen to the child friendly channels they need ad revenue.

I personally do not think that this new rule will affect me, because I make videos for entertainment and not for money, but all of my favorite Youtubers, who do Youtube full time for money, will most likely have to do 1 of 2 things.
1. They will have to make videos for adults only, therefore, I won't want to watch them anymore.
2. They have to find a new source of income that does not involve making things that other people will enjoy.
Like I said, this will not affect me, but I am concerned for the people that I love watching everyday.
And the amount of money they are fined if they incorrectly mark their videos, that is life destroying numbers!
This could demolish Youtube as a platform as we know it!
I hope you guys and gals at the FTC will rethink these new guidelines before you permanently ruin some peoples full time jobs.

I believe that clarification is required especially for video games, as there are games not made for children (Rated Teen(13+),M(17+), and Adults Only(18+) respectively by the ESRB) that use colorful art styles. This will help many channels that do Let's Plays determine if their content is kid friendly or not and prevent literally HUNDREDS of channels from being flagged as "Kid Friendly" when the game or whatever content the creator is playing is NOT MADE for that audience. Not only will this help define what is "Kids Friendly" and what is not. It will also lighten the load and lower potential costs of fines, fees, and otherwise to the FTC, YouTube, AND content creators as a whole.

I see a problem here. You will kill the profits of youtubers that have FAMILIES. You will kill businesses. You will ruin the most enjoyable things for most people. This will cause SO MANY PROBLEMS that I haven't listed. If you actually read this, thank you for your time. Please take heed of my call and try to find another way.

Shouldn't you just make underage kids not Use youtube

This entire issue is very unfair to everyone on YouTube. If this new policy takes effect, people may lose their jobs because of COPPA. And for that matter, I don’t understand the logic here. COPPA is supposed to protect kids, right? So if a video or a channel is marked for kids, they won’t even be able to find those videos, they will basically be hidden away somewhere where the kids can’t easily find it. Meanwhile, people will upload content that’s not suitable for kids, in fear of COPPA. What do you think the kids will do? Leave the internet and go play outside? no, they won’t. Let’s be real here, they are going to watch the content they can find, which will be content that’s not suitable for them. So this will more likely hurt them rather than protect them. Please, reconsider these new rules.

This rule gets rid of most content creaters

FTC,
This whole COPPA will affect YouTube drastically. It will affect many YouTubers that get money only from YouTube, as it is their full time job.
And another thing, parents knowingly give kids the ability to watch YouTube in their devices or on the kids devices. That sounds like parental consent to me. If your worried about the safety of the kids, then let the parents manages this. It is their kids after all.

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