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

Regarding a portion of this document. In this context, "OPERATOR" refers to a YouTube channel owner or content creator. The document states:

"Once COPPA applies, the operator must provide notice, obtain verifiable parental consent, and meet COPPA’s other requirements."

My objection and concern is that YouTube channel owners have NO METHOD to provide notice and obtain verifiable parental consent before allowing their content to be viewed. The YouTube platform does not allow for such things. This simply is not possible to achieve.

It's not content creators who are collecting data on children; it's YouTube. So why should content creators be held responsible for YouTube's collection of data. YouTube should not be passing the buck to the people who have made them an entity while they merrily go on collecting data as usual.

Can you guys just get youtube to send a notification to the child's parent whenever they are watching a video

If i know one thing about pokemon and anime, it's that previous generations up to 20 years ago and less have watched or played it as children themselves. And now that those children have becone adults, the like to upload videos amd images of these things targeted towards adults that include adult content, adult drinks, amd adult language. If a pokemon youtuber were to swear on camera, and not intend children to see his video, would that be against the law? Because youtube "does" have us mark our videos as for adults or as for children, so if it's marked as fir adults then it should ve fine.

Since watching You Tube for the first time...I have learned to bead, to sew, to make personalized tumblers, and am currently following along to make 10 mini albums/folios for my grandchildren! It’s like a whole new world has opened up for me. I have several health problems and I am so grateful that I have learned so many new skills. My daughter has6 children 10 years old and under. She island her husband only allow the two oldest boys to watch a few of the You Tube channels that are about Minecraft and Roblox games. They are not allowed to use their tablets on a school day, Non of the younger kids are allowed to watch You Tube. This should be a parental issue/responsibility. I would be crushed if all of the crafters no longer felt free to post Crafting videos. Please review the wording so that innocent crafter May use cute decorative papers without fear it will appeal to children. Their content is harmless and opens up many possibilities for young and old alike. It is and should be considered educational, as well as, harmless regardless of age. Should any suspicious activity arise on a channel directed as children, deal with that by blocking or suspending their channels after review. Have a rating system using a color code perhaps, but please don’t threaten these innocent crafter with huge hearts who jspread a world of knowledge and make a little income for all their efforts that are so appreciated and valued by all of their viewers.

This is the worst idea every thought of

Dear FTC, I am a content creator on YouTube and I am EXTREMELY CONCERNED about how YouTube is going to handle COPPA. While it is important that children are protected online, YouTube and FTC's handling of the situation may have massive negative ramifications for content creators. I myself review animated movies and television programs on my YouTube channel in both an analytical and satirical way. While many of the content I review is made for children- my content IS NOT SPECIFICALLY designed for them including adult themes, mild profanity, and serious critical analysis. YouTube claims it will use "machine learning" software to determine what is or isn't made for children- however, as evidenced by their copyright system which also uses machine learning, their system is EXTREMELY FLAWED- and they will amongst other things "the usage of popular animated characters for children" as a determining factor. Despite my not making content explicitly for children- my channel is at risk of being FALSELY FLAGGED and identified as "for children" and I could be fined THOUSANDS of dollars that I do not have.

The issue of data collection is something YouTube does for its business practice. Content creators themselves do not collect data or have any way to collect large amounts of data. I don't agree that the creators should be peanlized for mislabeling their content as "adult" but Youtube or FTC determine they are for "children" and they get fined. This enitre plan is nonsense. YouTube like other social media platforms need to find a better, more effecive method for policing content and I suspect that means more human monitors. The algorityms are not doing a good job of tagging bad channels. I watch a lot of craft and artist creators. Their content is intended for adults but there is no reason children can't watch them. Several of them remake barbie dols into adult art pieces. There is nothing a child couldn't see on their channels but they are fully intended for adults. Where do they fall within yourl aw? It is confusing for them. The law is poorly written, I suspect you had a specific type of content in mind when you wrote the rules and it just isn't going to work with so many other creators.

Thank you so much for considering the advice we youtubers gave you. I will put in the description of my channel “my videos are made for children, but can be watched by any audience” if that helps. Thank you so much!!!

While COPPA is a necessary safety net to help keep kids safe online, the wording of this is still far too vague.

You specify that any content that uses animated characters,certain types of music, or is using "traditional children’s pastimes or activities" can now fall under being targeted to children. However, the use of animation, certain music, colours etc are not restricted to only kids content. You are labelling broad genres of hobbies/interest under the banner of child content when these areas are also applicable to an adult audience. This method of thinking is outdated when you believe that only "traditionally adult activities" are things like finance, politics, and home ownership.

Many adults work in an industry or enjoy activities like art,gaming,crafts, animation and more. Our hobbies, jobs and activities do not begin and end at "traditionally adult activities". You are going to be punishing content creators who work in these genres because the way you have worded this document means that their content can now fall under this ruling, even though they clearly state their content is not targeting kids,if they contain something in this list they will be punished, even channels who make content aimed at an adult market but are family friendly are in the firing line.

The way you look at content, and define "traditional" adult activities and content needs to be re looked at as you are affecting thousands of peoples lives and jobs with how poorly this written and thought out.

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.

isn't Youtube +13?

This whole thing is absolutely absurd !

Imagine this. You pay your bills by entertaining an audience that is primarily between the ages of 17-24 years old and those thousands of people enjoy your videos, but suddenly you are unable to support yourself or your family because a group of people who know nothing about a platform’s community decide that they believe you are targeting kids by using the word “cool”. Now think about how terrible that would be, and then think about all of the livelihoods you are about to ruin with this terrible legislation. Honestly can’t you maybe just think to hold parents accountable for their poor parenting when Youtube Kids, a platform that exists to protect children, already exists. This is just another example of the incredible disconnection that the FTC suffers from. Everyone behind this should be truly ashamed of themselves.

Although this is a step In the right direction these updated stipulations are still to vague. Can you explain why the responsibility falls on the content creators rather than on YouTube and the parents? After all YouTube allowed for the data collection of minors and the parents are the ones responsible for this minors.

I made video for kid

How can i change my age restriction, my vedio its not made for kids?

Why would the people who lie to YouTube about the viewer being over 13 have any right to complain when YouTube gathers info on the viewer? They entered into a contract with YT and then violated it. It isn’t the videomaker’s fault that the viewer lied. This is sensoring of the arts and is wrong!

Hello FTC.

Please clearly specify what do you mean by child-oriented activities and incentives. You need to provide specific list. Otherwise the wordings of the rule is too broad.

Also please consult YouTube, YouTube creators, parents and YouTube viewers before finalising the ruling. Ruling also should evolve for the best interest of the general public as technology evolves. I hope FTC will kindly understand the modern need of participation of all above parties to make effective ruling.

Also please extend the comment deadline to 01 January 2020.

I believe you should reconsider the coppa guidelines and wait until they are updated

you are ruining my animated dreams for my fellow teens

You guys are taking it WAY too far. Like sucject doesn't matter that much for a story that was slightly changed to make it more family friendly. This law is just really dumb and too strict. I don't even know if i shoukd take you guys seriously at this point. Like you want to shutdowns some good youtubers? Like.. Why.. ?

The way things are classified do not appropriately reflect the reality about the type of content that is available. For example, I have had a channel for the last 10 years teaching adults how to make children's toys using dangerous tools and chemicals that would require direct parental supervision to produce said items. To the naked eye, it would appear that the content is directed towards children since the end result is a toy, but the techniques and tools that are required and discussed are more directed towards an adult with an interest in acquiring the skills necessary to produce one-of-a-kind toys. Your classification system makes it extremely difficult for someone like myself to remain compliant without raising flags. I do believe that before any enforcement is practiced that work needs to be done by the FTC to remedy the predicament they have created. The best way to address this issue would be to eliminate the amendment to the original statute.

How does FTC rules comply to other countries, America law does not stand as law in other countries.

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. 

How exactly is it our problem to watch over the younger audience? Shouldn't this be the parents job to monitor what their kids are watching?

Why is it a content creators problem to worry about the age of the viewers watching? Shouldn't it be the parents monitoring their kids activities on the internet? Also, why not just make a parental controls feature like other major companies (ex. Nintendo) instead of forcing content creators to either leave or change their content.

Hello there!! I need some help, so I make drawings on YouTube that do have some bright colors but I tend to use: Bad words, Things directed twords young teens and adults and Gore in my drawings.

I much rather have all ages to watch my videos because I don't think kids would be so interested in my art skills. If you need references tell me and I'll post it on YouTube and end you the link!

If you want to talk to me, please do it would help a lot! ^^

Thank you!

I'm a little confused on what the statement in the section: WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE PENALTIES FOR VIOLATING COPPA? They mention penalties for companies, but they don't use content creators. Does this mean that the FTC doesn't fine the creator? They just fine YouTube or Google? Some clarity would help on that as many creators would not be able to handle a $42,530 fine for each violation. Another topic I would like to bring us is how much better and clearer this information is to us than in the September 4th press conference. We thank you for hearing our frustration and for clarifying things for us.

There are so, so many craft channels on YouTube that are absolutely not child directed, yet reading this it seems that they would be covered by COPPA simply because they are a craft channel and children like crafts. These are people who either supplement their income with YouTube or YouTube is, in fact, their job. It just seems wrong to punish someone for doing a job because someone else didn't do theirs. I sincerely hope that the FTC reviews the extremely vague wording of COPPA and that an outcome may be achieved that is beneficial to everyone.

These new terms for YouTube are very vague and have little detail over or about them. This is going to affect YouTubers greatly and everyone who has and has been working hard on there channels just to entertain people or make them laugh, why take all that hard work that everyone has worked so hard on. From the stuff thats going on in YouTube now some youtbers who have been on youtube for a long time have actually quit youtube. This is taking peoples jobs away, their one job that they probably actually enjoy! Im saying this as i am some what of a youtuber myself and wish to not ne scared all the time that i may get in trouble by this whole thing and get my channel from what ive been told deleted or something like that(or be fined 42k). Let it be known that i do not hate the people that are doing this and making the whole thing, in fact i respect the reason on why this was a thing that happened. But know that this does not just affect the kids and children but this affects everyone who uses YouTube, youtubers and non-youtubers(video watchers). So please dont let this happen this is going to ruin so many people!

Don't do this to us...

you are literally ruining youtube for the people who use it as a source of income

There needs to be a clearer distinction between content creators and YouTube. For example, would it be a violation on the creator if YouTube collects data on viewers of a channel, while the creator doesn't collect data? Also, what type/level of data collection constitutes a violation. For example, would it be a violation to collect the age of the viewers of a channel and nothing else?

The Six-Step Compliance Plan for Your Business has information for you. It says that COPPA applies to operators of websites and online services that collect personal information from kids under 13.

Here’s a more specific way of determining if COPPA applies to you.  You must comply with COPPA if: Your website or online service is directed to children under 13 and you collect personal information from them.

OR

Your website or online service is directed to children under 13 and you let others collect personal information from them.

OR

Your website or online service is directed to a general audience, but you have actual knowledge that you collect personal information from children under 13.

OR

Your company runs an ad network or plug-in, for example, and you have actual knowledge that you collect personal information from users of a website or service directed to children under 13.

Until you guys give more clarity on how or what you will use to judge if content is made for kids, made for general audiences or not made for kids, this does nothing to alleviate people’s concerns. Why this wasn’t all clearly hashed out between yourselves and YouTube before you started threatening to come after individual content creators on YouTube with $42k fines is beyond me and imo shows a real level of irresponsibility on both YouTube and the FTC’s part.

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.

I'm Kinda Confused Cause Childrens pass time Can sometimes appeal to Everyone unless it is really targeted to kids.

Why are the content creators being held accountable for YouTube’s actions? Content creators neither collect the data of user, nor do they have access to that information. YouTube is at fault, YouTube should be punished. This is a flawed and unjust act.

Please, reconsider this decision and clarify the language in the ruling.

As an adult woman (60 years old) living in a major metropolitan area, I enjoy watching YouTube videos that are related to crafting, art, painting, mixed media, knitting, crocheting, bookmaking and paper crafts, as well as those that are nature driven such as eagle cams, bird cams, bear cams, etc., and I also enjoy a variety of cooking channels, along with those that may cover history etc. And there are many more that cross my feed that I consider educational and that allow me to explore different things I may not have been exposed to before. While there is much on YouTube that I am not interested in seeing and that I personally find offensive, I do have the ability to block them and not see videos from those channels anymore.

A major part of my enjoyment of the videos I do watch is reading and/or making comments, which, along with the videos themselves, I consider “continuing education“. And it’s free!

This ruling will seriously impact art, crafting, and cooking channels, as while their content might “appeal” to children, it is not necessarily “directed” towards children. Not allowing comments to be entered or allowing videos to be shared will have a major impact on me, personally, but also a major portion of the population, as well as the content creators themselves. I, and I’m sure millions of others, view much on YouTube as “continuing education“ and enjoy reading other peoples comments or sharing videos with family and friends who are interested in the same subjects.

“Continuing education“ is a very important thing for everyone to pursue. It can also be considered “personal enrichment”. By watching the crafting and art videos I do watch, I am able to explore new avenues of interest, and by watching cooking videos, I am able to learn new methods, techniques, recipes, etc. Those channels absolutely require the ability to enter comments because they allow the community at large to learn from other people, and gives feedback to the creators for their future work.

While the law is appropriate in many ways, there needs to be clarification in how it is applied. Parents should be parents and should be responsible for what they allow their children to view. The law does fail in that it puts the burden on those who have no control over who watches their content.

Another factor that should be taken into consideration is that many YouTube channels offer information or education which may not be physically available through classes or opportunities in viewers communities. I, for one, could never learn all of the things I do via YouTube where I live, and I physically wouldn’t have the time or money to pursue all the things I do on YouTube even if they were available in my community. Also, it’s free! Times for many are hard enough, and having the ability to watch videos of interest enables me to expand my horizons — and the only investment I have to make is my time.

Please, take my thoughts into consideration. I personally have been driven away from Facebook because of the content they allow, as well as the advertisements they accept. While much on YouTube should be “policed”, channels in the categories I have mentioned should not be subject to this ruling. The long-term effect will be that they just disappear, and that means opportunities for further education or personal enrichment will be eliminated, and those content creators could lose a significant portion of their income.

Also, please note that many content creators in the categories I have mentioned are handicapped or disabled, and this decision would particularly affect them financially.

Thank you for your time.

dear FTC,

with the new COPPA rules i dont think you will protect kids but just harm them because you will get 90% less money if you make kids content.
that would mean that there will be less child friendly content beacause there is less motivation.
this would mean that kids are forced to watch more mature content.

i hope you will take this fact in consideration.

This is such foolishness I'll be very hurtful to all viewer's who loves everyone channel

This is a gray area that is trying to be shifted into black and white. I understand that the privacy of children is extremely important, but how is this not covered in the terms and conditions of YouTube? Why are you fining content creators? Why are companies of any kind allowed to market to children at all? Reading through this, it seems remarkably easy that a lot of creators will get undeserving fines for no reason. How will you avoid this? Manually reviewing every video on YouTube isn't plausible due to the staggering amount of content. Using an algorithm rarely works wells. This just seems like a mess. Change my mind?

Will inactive channels get affected by the Coppa law? I have an old youtube channel that has been inactive for almost 9 years and I don't remember email/password for that channel. I don't want to get fined just because I couldn't login to that channel and delete all my videos. This is really scary.

Considering contacting YouTube to have your password reset.

Why are you placing the burden on content creators alone? Where has advertisers responsibility gone? Where has parent responsibility gone? Why not a rating system, similar to the movie industry? What is about to be implemented by the FTC & YT is very unfair to creators & dangerous to freedom!

Ever hear of My Space? That's where YouTube will go if this law is enacted. It seems to me that parents are becoming more lazy when monitoring their children and expecting others to do it for them.

So sad. I've learned so much from You Tube tutorials. Please make this new law clearer to the craft channels so they can continue with their work. I strongly believe this restriction should begin with the parent but understand they can't be watched 24/7. So make channels 18 and up & if the parent alows the child to watch then it's on them. Please reevaluate this decision.

There are a lot of us out here who depend on YouTube for information on just about any subject you can think of. There are also others who view YouTube as a source of comfort and companionship due to long term illness or disabilities. I ask you to please look at this law and realize that the wording is far too vague that is forcing many YouTube channels to remove content and even to remove their channels completely. This is not a win, it is a huge loss for millions of people. Please re examine the guidelines before this becomes irreversible.

Right now, I am just a viewer of YouTube Channels, but want to start making videos. As content creators, we also have rights! What ever happened to holding parents responsible for their kids?! If a parent can not control what a child watches or does, what makes anyone think that some “law” is going to stop a kid? For decades, kids have lied about their age, for many reasons! Why would you think they will stop, now? It is NOT anyone, but the parents, responsibility to protect their children! Parents have gotten lazy and don’t want to parent their children anymore! They let their kids watch and do whatever they want so they don’t have to deal with their own kids! It has become a very sad, sad world! Start holding these parents responsible!

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