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 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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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