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

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.

Why are content creators being targeted anyway? Wasn't it the platform (Youtube, Goggle) that broke COPPA law? So why are the users of the platform being held accountable? Shouldn't the platform itself be held responsible? I do very much understand and approve of the need to protect children, but the whole thing is still a bit confusing.

well this rule when it was made was thinking about one thing and not other things like youtubers lifes may end peoples dream of becoming great youtubers will end bec of some rule and isnt there youtube kids what is it for than its not our problem that parents give there children there phones and youtube its there own resposiblity(miss spelled sorry) please think about it bec this rule isnt gonna be to keep children safe well its gonna hurt them becuase there is nothing to watch on youtube

Please don’t add this because it will destroy so many youtubers dreams because most of them do this as a job and they do it for fun, so you doing could make people bankrupt

We need to stop this COPPA.

Many content creator youtube channels have entire teams of people at work for them and function as internet-based "TV stations" which create their own shows. Those that have their videos marked as "for kids" have no means of making money from them under youtube's implementation of COPPA law. Said creators can't even make sure those videos are viewed by their audience and are unable to get needed audience feedback for them. Many such creators stand to lose their main--and for some, their only--source of income because of this. How will the FTC address those concerns?

What if there is an old YouTube account that I can’t access because I forgot my password or something like that. Will I still get fined?

I love all sorts of channels. Please don’t change them.

This is absolutely ridiculous and the wrong approach. It is not Youtube nor the creator's responsibility to monitor what kids are watching. That is their parents responsibility and the purpose of the Youtube Kids app. In order to sign up for youtube, you must be 13 years of age or older. It is not the creators fault if a child younger than that lies while signing up. And it is, once again, the parent's responsibility to monitor their children. COPPA is going to ruin so many loved channels and creators, and possibly the entire platform of Youtube.

This didn't need to happen. An automated system will flag up content that it thinks is for kids, whereas it's actually not. I've had to delete a load of videos from my channel because they're gaming videos (for kids), but with curse words (not for kids). It's honestly confusing, and $42,000 fines? That would make most content creators homeless.

It's the parents who should be taking care of what children see on the internet rather than some automated system and the FTC. It's honestly madness.

I am all for protecting children. One thing to please reconsider is ‘allowing ‘searchability’’. To me that is one thing that helps parents FIND safe content. When they can search those channels they already KNOW are safe, it is better. Otherwise children and families cannot find the safe channels. It makes no sense on this one. Allow children’s channels that are safe to be searchable please!

My animation videos are not directed to children . So do I mark those videos for kids or not for kids ? Pls answer I have no idea what to do . I am confused .

As many have said and will continue to say until things are revised and/or explained better, your wording on the rules is far to vague. Also, the fines you mentioned. Is there a warning issued first or do you jump straight into finning folks? If this is aimed at protecting children from advertisers why is it allowed on children’s programming on cable/satellite? Instead of making vague statements that don’t let anyone know any actual information you need to express your intent outright, especially as this could/will affect many content creators and their livelihoods. Side note, crack down on network television the same way so everyone is on a somewhat level playing field.

I urge the FTC to reconsider or at the very least clarify these guidelines. In this modern age, children are all over the internet, and parents will even introduce to them the means to use it at very young ages. I myself have witnessed countless parents simply hand tablets and smartphones over to toddlers to allow them to watch videos on YouTube. In fact, virtually every parent I have encountered allows their child to watch YouTube, supervised or otherwise. In addition, every parent I have asked does not mind personalized ads being shown to their children. These things sound like consent to me, and I urge the FTC to take what these parents are saying with their actions into consideration, or to require a consent system easily accessible to parents in today's day and age. I urge the FTC to not force YouTube creators whose income and livelihoods depend on it to disable personalized ads, and to not enforce these guidelines against creators on YouTube until it's review of COPPA is complete. I also urge the FTC to clarify what is meant by "child-directed," "child-oriented activities and incentives," and to not expand these guidelines to cover "child-attractive" content. I also urge the FTC to be working with people and organizations such as YouTube and Google who understand what YouTube really is, how it really works, and how people, parents, and children use the internet in 2019. Thank you for thinking of children and for taking public comment on this matter into consideration.

Fining people $42,530 is stupid. People could go bankrupt if accidentally not abiding by COPPA rules. Plus even if it’s a US company everyone around the world are also effected.

With how vague this law is, it’s going to ruin many lives of content creators. Their jobs, their livelihoods are at risk if this passes the way it is now. It’s not fair, let the parents be concerned with their own children.

it is too vague. i do a craft channel it is directed towards adults. i diamond paint. other crafters in my community also do adult coloring. many craft channels may have in background adult color books or color pens. that can be seen in the background in their storage system etc when they do a video even though they not doing a coloring video in diamond painting there always bright colors no matter what. i thought i been living in us where i was protected by our constitution. yes this is a clear violation of the freedom of speech.

I'm a channel creator of model trains, model vehicles, plastic kits of cars, trucks, ships and radio controlled vehicles. My models are not for children under 14 years of age! The manufacturers have that listed on all of their products! I wouldn't let a 14 year old or under age child handle my models! They are too expensive and model trains work with electricity! Now I understand that a model train running around the Christmas Tree or around a club layout may be interesting to a child, they still ARE NOT TOYS! Children would not be able to buy these at the local WalMart! Some pieces are collector items in the price range of up to $3000-$5000! Yes, model trains that cost $3000! RC(Radio Controlled) are very expensive as well! So my videos may be interesting to children under 13, they are not intended for children under 13 years of age!

As much as I am happy that the content creators shouldn't be afraid of uploading videos, I'm concerned for other YouTubers. Once 2020 arrives, will the main YouTube be the same? Or will it fall into pieces. I personally think that the rules as of right now shouldn't be changed. Main YouTube is for individuals who are at the age of 13 or over. I ask you as well as COPPA at the bottom of my heart, please do not take down the channels we have come to love such as gaming channels and animated channels. Please do not take down our channels as well.

So, if muy channel Is about videogames, is not for kids? I still don't understand.

Please reconsider COPPA. It will destroy innocent people who made YouTube their full-time jobs. All they do is express their ideas on a platform. By censoring YouTube, it will hurt these people's First Amendment Right. They shouldn't have to suffer for expressing themselves.

FTC if your actually reading this comment stop youtube is a platform that thrives the people who run it get payed the people who make the content get payed and the people who watch the content either get a kick out of it learn something or are a fan of the content creator its a universal platform that helps and entertains so stop this act can put familys into poverty shut down bisnises and attract a lot of hate towards you so stop

There is many channels that repaint dolls that might be deemed as for kids even though they're an art channel that uses many chemicals and tools that aren't for kids...there are many channels that are in this gray area of content that might be intended for everyone, but marked as for kids...this will substantially decrease their income...

What are they supposed to do now? Use explicit language in every video to not be marked as for kids

Please take time to thoroughly make rules and guidelines...so creators aren't just playing a legal guessing game
Real people's lives are at stake here

Adding violence, blood, explicit language or other elements to content will not necessarily mean that the content is not child-directed. As described in the blog, the FTC will consider the factors set forth in the Rule to determine whether content is directed to children.

I do family friendly animation. So do I put for kids?

I hate this so much!!! Some of my favorite YouTubers have to cancel their entire channel thanks to coppa. Yeah it has cartoons, vibrate colors, jokes, and other silly stuff but older kids and adults can like that too. So you can’t say that only Kids can watch it. Anyone can, why because they want to. Coppa and TFC is being totally unfair. Bye

Now for example couldn't you enforce the users to just put 14+ for this animations because if you were to enforce this we could still enjoy this animated content but because of the 14+ it would tell the kids and parents that this animation is directed to the older demographic because I want to enjoy these and not have them taken off.

if the animated character done tons of violence, are you sure those are for child?

I just started a YouTube channel. While my content is not SPECIFICALLY for children, the RISK of a $42,000 fine is NOT worth keeping our vacation videos on YouTube, even if the FTC says there is no danger. My plan is to remove EVERY SINGLE VIDEO I have posted and wait until this is resolved. If it is not, I will NEVER post a single video with the possibility that a bot, an algorithm, or a FTC employee will consider it children's content, EVEN IF I mark it "MADE FOR ADULTS." This is frankly confusing. Wish there was another way to resolve this problem without stressing out YouTube Channel owners.

This is dangerous for kids, once all kids content is eliminated on youtube they will start to watch what left.. adult content. then what next? blame the creators..

One would assume this law affects content creators in the United States. What about children's videos from other countries? Who is to say a child in the US cannot simply click a children's video from England, Australia or Japan?

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

"the subject matter" - I have videos about and against school bullying. Children watching it, but parents and teachers too. Even if it's not for little kids. What now?

"visual content" - Like what?

"the use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives" - Animated characters from shows like Family Guy and South Park? Those are animated shows but adult shows.

"the kind of music or other audio content" - What does this even mean? Are all happy music is for children?

"the age of models" - Kids are in horror movies. Are horror movies considered "content for kids"?

"the presence of child celebrities or celebrities who appeal to children" - Celebrities like Santa Claus?

"language or other characteristics of the site" - What language? Kids speak the same language as adults. Adults are using the same slags as kids, as everyone is using the same hip language on the Internet.

Nothing is exact about this. Every Youtube video creator need like 12 lawyers just to figure out the basics, but not even lawyers can do that because these rules/laws are all gray areas. So anyone can get sued anytime for any content. Sounds fantastic...

this is dumb. a very large majority of people that watch youtube. are above these ages there is no reason to take the money people need. these are peoples jobs. how would main stream media like it if we made kids shows illegal. thats what you are doing. these kids have a choice to watch these videos. there's no reason to blame the creators.

A lot of youtubers are doing their absolutely best to keep their channels running strongly while indicating that their content are each for distinctive audiences. Some are for children, some are for adults and some are for both. To heavily fine an individual for doing their job without specific guidelines outside of the basic ones listed is not only scary, but also potentially illegal. Please don’t let content creators fall victim to ruining their lives altogether.

As an avid You Tube viewer of art content (tutorials, classes and general information related to art I think that the enforcement of these rules, with the vauge definitions will cripple much of the content that I so enjoy. Surely a rating system (i.e. P, PG, R) would ease the burden of providers in deciding what content is "child directed"

This is so stupid. So many youtubers will be fined for no reason

How do you reconcile the rules against collecting children's information with the fact that channel owners DO NOT collect any information? YouTube collects that. Channel owners have no access to that info and couldn't stop that info from being collected if they wanted to. By punishing the channel owners for collecting the information (something they're not doing), you're not even going after the people with the power to stop the violation from happening. How is that either protecting children or enforcing the law? Also, how can you possibly call $40k+ against a single citizen or small business a reasonable fine? Our Constitution protects against excessive fines in the eighth amendment. How is this sort of thing not unconstitutional? I would say that it definitely is, and if you insist on pushing it through, I think it's only a matter of time before the judicial system rules against you on that matter. (I'm not a YouTuber and have deleted the handful of decade-old videos I had listed because of COPPA, rather than risk a life-destroying penalty because of something I'm not doing. But this is of great concern to me as a creator of other types of media/content because it's also a direct attack on our freedom of speech--another thing the Constitution protects and which our government should be working to uphold rather than destroy.)

Please understand that it's not the creators' fault that they make child friendly content or content directed to children many of these content creators create content to make money to sustain wealth for their family and when they were getting demonitized that meant they would no longer make money from their cont they were getting demonitized because they were making adult content so they fixed that by becoming family friendly which means that children under 13 could watch their content with permission from their parents. Also, your categorization of kid content is not fair because, such as the characters telling stories that can be many different things such as stories about depression or just a duck crossing the road and then, animation being for kids yes some animation is made for children but there are also animation companies like adult swim which is made almost entirely of animation but everything on their platform is 18+ meaning it is not for kids. Instead of suing content creators you should have youtube be made for all ages and then parents should be able to set what age range the content should be and content that's not for children should have disclaimers and to make sure it's not a child watching the inappropriate content youtube should have them put in their youtube account password before watching inappropriate content. Sincerely, a concerned civilian.

Do not sue content creators! PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT THEY ARE ONLY TRYING TO ABIDE BY YOUR RULES BUT ARE BEING TREATED UNFAIRLY!

This is a no go, cant you just stick to youtube kids and no pull anyone else into this

There are many things that are colorful, fast ,and have sound effects that I a young adult like. That being said if and when I do have kids I will not be letting them watch and/or play said things. But seeing how this is going, some of us might want to get some copies of Farebheit 451 and 1984 and hide them.

This is completely stupid. It's not the YouTuber's fault about what kids do. These rules will wipe out a huge population of youtube and no one wants that! Please just listen to the community!

People and Content Creators are quite literally panicking over this and the information here is very vague and has no nuance to it that helps anyone. Please either update this or find a fair and easier compromise as this is going to hurt the Content creators, Not Google/Youtube

What about "family friendly " content? Example: fishing is not directed at children, but it should be ok to watch a father and son fish together! If the subject matter is family friendly, then having a youth participant in the video shouldn't be an issue, provide language and content are "rated G"

Hey my videos not made for kid's.i don't wait them on my you tube.if it's possible if they can not put them on my you tube.

FTC, please know there is a such thing as YouTube Kids. Parents can use that.

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