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

Sorry but how’s this gonna work again? The kids most likely use their parents email as THEY ARE NOT OLD ENOUGH to have their own accounts. So by destroying all the content creators you effectively give easy access to children to get inappropriate content because it’s not directed towards them. Think about it.

Well this clears a few things up. I was previously up in arms over how broad a brush COPPA was appearing to paint with. Now that I'm aware people will actually be determining this based on much more concrete metrics than "He said cool, take his money" I'm much more relaxed.

Why u r destroying yourube

This brings very little additional clarity to the original document. As a YouTuber who had made crafts and has a particularly pastel aesthetic this still terrifies me. My content was not created FOR children and the wording above still does not concretely verify that making crafts in my pink room won’t get me fined. Perhaps not going through with this still frighteningly vague update and instead making sure that YouTube’s account system which requires the user to be 13 or older is properly enforced. Or adding that using a YouTube account is neccisary to view any content and that by being on the account any child using their parents account then has parental permission to view targeted ads and allow data collection. Please instead put this on the parents and not youtube creators who are simply trying to be ad friendly and entertaining.

Ultimately the criteria listed is too vague to be useful to content creators. Also much of the criteria listed applies not only to kids but adults as well. A large swath of the adult population plays video games and still enjoys cartoons. There are many artist who use animation despite the substance of the animation being adult in theme. The content creator does not collect the information of their child viewers, but the platform does. Fining them would be unjust. Many of the things used to gain the attention of children such as bright colors or words like fun awesome also gain the attention of adults. Much of the criteria listed shows a complete lack of understanding of the way in which internet culture, content creation, and consumption works. The criteria needs to be heavily refised, reduced, and refined. As most of this does not protect children and only ruins content for older viewers, harms content creators, and protects entities like YouTube using and selling the data they harvest from children.

Please. Please. Please. Just listen to yourselves. I understand you want to make this as safe as possible for kids. But the fact that you are taking literally everything away from people. 98% of the content on YouTube will be “for kids” with the writings that you have put out so far. Everything is colorful, tons of people who play games want their content to be for everyone. BECAUSE IT IS! Adults watch games, animations, unboxings, etc. TOO. so what you are saying is that everything on YouTube will basically go on YouTube kids. Honestly. That really. Really. Shouldn’t be how that works. If you are actually going to go out with all of the things you’ve put out right now, well, you are going to get much love with that. People would appreciate if you just let animators, gaming channels, and other youtubers that LITERALLY have color in them go free. Just do your hardest to block all the bad content in it. My friend is an animator on YouTube, she has worked really hard to get where she is. All the other animators have too. All the gamers have too. Everyone has. And to charge a 42,000 fine for expressing feelings and emotion to adults is actually hecking mad of you all. I’m not saying I disrespect that your doing this but the way that you are bringing it and out and way you are carrying it out is horrible. Thank you.

I think this decision and its implementation should be reconsidered. The criteria for "child-attractive" is too broad and should be removed. It unfairly penalizes content creators in certain categories, like gaming or crafting who may intend their videos for adults, but find that kids may enjoy watching them, too. I also think it is unfair to fine content creators for failing to correctly identify their videos based off this vague criteria. The fine amount is also far too high for the infraction- surely a percentage of revenue from the video would be a more fair penalty. I am an adult Youtube viewer who enjoys craft channels, doll repainting videos, and anime cosplay. The creators I enjoy will be deincentivised to produce this content for me, an adult, as it will either offer little revenue and engagement as a "child-directed" video (even though it is intended to discuss these hobbies as adults, that children might like to see but couldn't participate in at the level discussed), or they run the risk of being fined more than a year's wages to the average American worker for labeling the video as adult directed if some arbitrary interpretation of these vague standards goes against their favor. And every single video would add to their risk. Placing the burden of protecting children's private information onto the content creators is ridiculous and unfair. The companies who mine this information for profit and the parents who allow their children to misuse the adult's social media accounts should be held responsible. Please do not penalize content creators for a mess that was none of their doing. And please do not punish me by pushing the kind of content I enjoy out of this public sphere - I don't have kids, and I'm not making any money online or collecting any information. I just want to watch other adults participate in the hobbies I enjoy... that children might sometimes enjoy watching, too.

This actually violates freedom of speech yknow

The current state of the law is flimsy at best. You need to outline specific details about what people should look for in kids content. The middle ground for things for kids is insane. The same content that has curse words and swears, may also have Mario in it. Mario is a reconizable kid icon but obviously the video isn't for kids. You need to specifiy your laws to a very concise system, or drop it entirely and come up with a sign up with your parents permission to acess youtube. Like an account, so that you cant enter the website without either being 13 or older, or having a parents permission.

Thank you for reading my input, Have a nice day/night/whatever time it is as of reading.

The vagueness of the rule makes it impossible to be in compliance. The wording used such as the word “may” leaves it to the discretion of the reviewer as to whether or not a creator is in compliance. There needs to be a change in the rule to include specifics.

This list of rules is extremely vague and subjective many children may listen to artist that are popular with teens and young adults, and cartoons can be made for many ages. How much content that would be considered to be targeted at children make a channel for children?

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. Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint to see the FTC’s analysis in context.

This is the craziest form of “big brother” I have heard of. I watch YouTube to learn many things: crafts, questions about new products, make up & hairstyles, Crochet techniques and many more. If you run all these people off, there will be no more YouTube left. No one will want to post any kind of video for fear an underage child might view it? Ludicrous! Parents need to parent their children and let adults continue to learn from others without fear of fines & lawsuits! I am an adult with the right to learn public informed information without censorship or condemnation. Please re-think this craziness!

So wait, animators are in danger? What if our goals are to become animators that are well known? Does that mean our goal has been completely THROWN AWAY? So our animations are going to be viewed but not liked? Ridiculous.

What happens if somebody is not able to pay the fine?

This is still far too vague. While yes there are some clearer explanations this still provides an issue for several others. You are stripping Youtube of the freedom for content creators just like what people feared Net Neutrality for. We get you want to protect children but to note this, if someone from your staff gets it wrong on what classifies child-friendly or not upon your own rules OR if people even ABUSE these rules you'd put kids AND families out on the street for fining them. Initially destroying there lives.

At the very least if you won't lift this agreed law, PLEASE consider to add a "My Content is Age Neutral" option to ease most of our concerns. Regardless of what people are using upon there content. Take example a "Dress-Up Game" I have seen MANY people use that to tell stories but THOSE still have a sense of maturity on them. So PLEASE consider re-reading the flaws of these and hear us out. We don't wish to have to be forced to delete our videos.

Also, it wouldn't hurt either if you gave us warnings first before considering on fining us.

Honestly, it's truly confusing why we take responsibility for the parents irresponsibility. All we do is make videos for entertainment. We'd rather you enforce parents. Not us content creators that you referred to as "Fish in a barrel"

This is wrong. CHANGE THE POLICY.

What about Minecraft though? There is literally no age requirement for Minecraft. What if i make video's of me playing Minecraft and I cut because i get spooked by a creeper? Then it wouldn't count as a "kids video" now would it?

This whole thing makes no sense, youtube is meant for people over 13 anyway, why is the FTC going after content creators rather then Youtube, who knowingly allowed and bragged about have users under 13?

This is loss of freedom!

The requirements are FAR too vague and broad in range. In addition, many adults enjoy the same things that children do, such as things like music, animation, and fantasy. Things like Disney and Dungeons and Dragons are meant for people of all ages to enjoy, and not just 'for kids'. Many adults today grew up in Nintendo games, and so they enjoy watching that material as well.
Also, just because a video has flashy lights and fun music, doesn't mean that is meant for kids. Many youtubers make adult jokes and use adult language that isn't for children. Crafts can be used as a way of expressing creativity, something that isn't limited to children. Many craft channels use dangerous tools and chemicals in their craft, which aren't meant for children to use. Pets are also universally enjoyed and needed, by both children and adults.
This abuse of the law could also Shatter families and businesses who's livelihoods are built on YouTube as a platform. Hiding kids channels behind layers of enforcement will also leave children with nothing to watch but the 'not for children' content, which will only harm them more.
Lastly, it is NOT the FTC's right or responsibility to parent other people's children. If the parents in question allow they're children to watch YouTube, it should be their decision, not COPPA's.
The FTC has no right to restrict people's entertainment or destroy the livelihoods of thousands of content creators.

Wouldn’t this just make children do inappropriate stuff

This is terrifying... i mean it has made me sick to my stomach. It is so vague! I am starting to get horrible vibes from Big Brother, this is just a nightmare about to come true for all of youtube, creator or not. I am a small art youtuber without monetization and I am deeply confused and scared for the community. I am scared for the future of my favorite youtubers. Literally people may resort to suicide to try and escape the debt and depression if this comes to pass and is not made clearer. These are peoples lives. They just want to make the content they love. Google/youtube was collecting the data... we as the creators are just creating. Ugh this makes me feel so sick, please dont destroy youtube. Parents just need to take care of their kids better, its not up to a platform to babysit.

The COPPA rules are extremely vague and affect all craft channels, because they are made for adults,but children love to watch crafts videos. Crafting in general are made with tools not for children to use without adult supervention. Is COPPA going after TV channels and Radio Stations the same way the go after YouTube crafting channels? TV and Radio have plenty of content unsuitable for children, but they keep playing those programs at prime time when children are watching.

Very distressed over this. Children should be protected absolutely. However, this does not sound though out and the proposed sounds way too vague. It doesnt actually sound like it will stop the collection of data, kids will continue to lie about their age, and this will ruin YouTube for everyone. Aren't there bigger problems on the internet to be fought to keep children and the rest of us safe. Simply dont let you tube collect data on anyone! Oh that's right..... greed always wins over morality.
Very upset that the one thing we do watch is going to be ruined.

This will not keep children safe..

Why doesn’t the FTC require computer companies to ensure any computer bought for a child, set up for a child, Or a household that has children, to not allow information to be collected?

This effectively shuts down child friendly content on YouTube, now children are going to be watching age inappropriate subject matter.

I think the head of the FTC needs to be fined for impeding freedom of speech, and I think the government needs to get out of the "childcare" buisness and allow parents to raise and watch their own kids.

Can we really just not have any of this coppa? I get it! It’s to protect kids, but don’t we aalready have YouTube kids?

Anti this the resionnwhy we have YouTube kids app, the kids under 13 should be on that instead of normal YouTube. Honestly We do have an 18+ setting for a good reason . Along with that if apparently monitoring their children online Then cap needs to get involved. The parent should be charged to find

YouTube clearly states you have to 13 or older. Why are the content creators the one that have to suffer? Because parents are bad at their job? This is clearly a problem with the parents, they need to take responsibility for keeping kids under 13 off the site not content creators.

Believe it or not but with an age range of 13-30+ more than just little kids enjoy gaming and cartoons

Please more info on creators on You tube for adult crafts, thank you!

I’m still wondering whether my content is “for kids” or not, my. intended audience is teens but my content posses bright colours and I use dress up games for character models, but I include not so kid friendly stuff such as blood, fighting, gore, and death. So does that make me kid friendly? Or not?

Hello, FTC I post videos on youtube on a game called Cities: Skylines in that game you have to make your own city. Another type of videos I make are Mapping videos and they are mostly hand drawn online I wamted to ask if these type of videos violate coppa

How can content creators be liable when they arent the ones collecting data it is YouTube and Google. Content creators have absolutely no control over what data Google and YouTube collect.

Clarification of rules here in light of harsh technological change is a good thing for everyone involved. Youtube's throttling features and resources for anyone who doesn't appeal to kids, and while I agree with the rules of COPPA as enforced in some games like roblox, where you can't collect data for users and purchases are limited, I can't help but feel threatened by Youtube weaponizing a law such as this to cover their own ends instead of keeping children safe. Something that would specifically state bits of that middle ground the new terms of service lack, in order to keep the law more solid and keep regulations more firm.

It seems to me that YouTube is the one collecting kid's data and it's passing the punishment to it's content creators. Seems a bit unfair for YouTube to be deciding who will be punished.

If this is goes on, you're going to ruin a lot of people's lives and families around the world.

hi im haley i love youtube but i have a channel that only has 52 subs on it and i make videos and they are not targeting children i honestly think i might need to delete my whole channel if this is going to be the way it is. i respect the new rule but small channels that only have 60 subs and below i would hate to see get fined because of this or people that didnt know about the new law get there videos and whole channel deleted. but youtube does have an app for kids. my sister and i both make videos. but we are at a loss right now i am thinking of moving to instagram ( igtv ) to make my videos. and i have something else one of my channels because i have 2 diffrent channels has a video on it and i forgot the passward for it and the channel only has 7 subs and the video has 8 vews i been making videos since i was 16 and now im 18 i dont want to be fined for 40,000 dallars because im still in school and i dont have that kind of money. i respect the law and i know that this honestly make alot of people upset because of this im praying that this wont effect channels that dont even have over 100 sub not even over 60 subs but thanks and bye.

I am part of the youtube Model Rail Road Community and our content is Suitable for all ages but it it is marked for kids then no more comments and the feedback and advice in our model RR is a big part of why we do the videos so what do we do?? i guess we just quit. this takes big brother to a whole new level the bad part about all this is it will not protect any kids and will destroy peoples lives RIP Youtube 2005-2020

hi it haley i already submitted one but i forgot to say my channel is a for fun thing i dont make money on it my family and friends are the only ones that watch my videos. if the ftc does read both of my comments please dont make people scared of being fined for something that that they cant aford i dont think my content is made just for kids at all because its made for everyone. please take in consiteration of everyone and how they feel. thats why youtube made the app ( youtube for kids) but if you have a kid thats courious, kids will watch what they want anyway and alot of parents monitor there kids devices too. thanks for your time

"competent and reliable empirical evidence about the age of the audience"
I think this is the most important thing to consider. I've been seeing a lot of Youtubers panicking about being mistakenly identified as child-oriented, despite their Demographics Report clearly showing most of their viewers are over 18. Several of them have even considered quitting YouTube. While there obviously aren't any demographics for children under 13, I think there would be a lot less fear-mongering going on if Youtubers could be assured that their Demographic Report alone could be sufficient to protect them from being fined, if it paints a clear enough picture.
Regardless, I still don't agree with this policy on principle. Making child-oriented content very difficult to find on YouTube just means children are more likely to find content that's not appropriate for them. Furthermore, I suspect most parents don't mind their children seeing targeted ads, and even if they do, they could just have their children use the YouTube Kids app instead. But as long as we can be reasonably confident that channels with predominately adult audiences aren't going to be misidentified as children's content and fined, this is a policy I can live with.

Hello FTC COPPA.

I have running cooking channel with my 10- year old son & his friends. All videos participate only for kids age below 18. But we are NOt going to create any video "Made for Kids" or targets any kids. In this case can I need choose "Made for Kids? Pls explain. Also explain impact of Made for kids applied YouTube videos?

Animated content and the use of cartoon characters doesnt mean something is for kids. Thanks for ruining youtube.

As a long time Youtube user, please don't punish the users whose major source of income is from making videos by fining them $42,000 just because they don't fall under the category for children. Do not punish them what is the responsibility of the parents, It's unprofessional and just plain stupid if this is the outcome in January.

This is troublesome and worrying even to someone looking in form the outside as I wonder how this will effect people outside the usa that create content ok youtube, will people in Australia, the UK, and canada (plus many more) also be held to a USA law when laws in canada are already in place to keep children safe from this in addition to restricting children from even purchasing a device to view media until the age of 16, even then the parents are responsible to monitor their children. This isnt a slam dunk on this association but a question from a worried neighbor. Also, I ask that this association better clarifies what it considers child directed content, it says bright colors but the speaker for the FTC wears bright colors themselves, are they targeting themselves towards a child audience? It looks messy and is

these rules if applied can be broadly interpreted and have a chilling affects on 1st amendment rights of content, as creators will fear 40k plus fines and thus alter their speech.

These rules are way too vague. Determination of what is child related might be subject to generalizations and assumptions rather than to actual content. What is wrong with this? You could be making determinations based on stereotypes. Isn't that how unfair profiling starts? I think you need to study this more. It seems the way you are determining whether a channel should be monetized in one of another is totally unfair to the creators.

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. Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint to see the FTC’s analysis in context.

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