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

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

If I may, this changes will harm in a giant manner the likes of YouTube. A lot of people live from uploading videos and the new restrictions are completely unnecessary. "Bright and vibrant colors," seriously? How many adult cartoons/video games contain these, the same goes for pets and children, how many movies do they appear in where it's not appropriate for children and labeled as such. Aside, I know there are a lot of children that watch videos and you want to protect them, but the big majority of people are over 18 years old, and children less than 13 years old do not compose even the 10% of the people who watch this. Restrictions like video games and sports are ridiculous, specially since it's most adults that watch them, not kids. I please ask you to reconsider this, a lot of people will be harmed from this and it will be even worst for children, since dedicated videos for children will lose a LOT of potential quality videos for them. Thank you if you decide to read this, and reconsider the situation.

COPPA is going to destroy channels that have no control over targeted ads. Channel owners don't choose targeted ads or track information, but they are being punished for it? Creators are not at fault for tracking information.

I am not in approval of this terrible thing. This is sucking the money away from people that just want to have successful lives.

We know that the COPPA protects little kids, but this will KILL YouTube and it's creators. Please don't do this. People only upload for fun like me, I don't want to get fined for uploading a simple Minecraft video.

After viewing all of the most popular YouTuber responses to COPPA, I want to add to a prior comment expressing my concerns. The FTC's guidelines at present are extremely vague and arguably overly broad, and it's this that is causing a tremendous amount of anxiety in the content creator community due to the immediate threat of large, life-ruining fines. I would encourage the FTC to establish a system where YouTubers concerned about how some of their videos might be classified can submit their channel to the FTC for review without the threat of fines. After the FTC has made decisions on a few hundred of these channels, and these decisions have been debated, all parties will have a much better understanding of how to classify gray area videos and what impacts these changes are likely to have on the future of the platform. The FTC may then wish to revise and clarify some guidelines so as not to drive away family-friendly content in favor of adult-targeted content, and I suggest that the update of this law allow them to do so later next year.

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.

The FTC should not be involved with the regular youtube site, instead they should be more involved with youtube kids. Youtube kids is all kid content, and thats why they made it so regular youtube is untouched and for mature audiences.

Coppa is ruining youtube

How about simplifying the content rating system similar to tv and movies, and instituting parental controls so parents can (must) decide what restrictions to impose.

I feel like this new rule is overly strict. Being one of many animators on YouTube, I'm honestly scared to upload content anymore since I have bright and colorful characters. Plus, a lot of the things I upload don't comply with this rule. I just want to express myself and upload completely harmless and fun content.

I really don’t think that there would have a majority in finances,politics,and other stuff . What you people are talking to us about still would make a lot of people lose jobs 。

This will make a HUGE impact on many content creators like myself.. So many communities will be affected if this new law does pass. I’ll list a couple of communities that will be affected.. The Gacha community, gaming community, crafting, etc. This rule will literally affect millions of people who make content on here, as well as making a-full-time job out of youtube! It’s really unfair. People could go bankrupt, go homeless and etc. Please, reconsider this new law. Youtube could be killed by 2020. Also, I wish parents would actually take responsibility and monitor their children’s time online, it’s not the creators fault for “gathering information” from children, it’s Youtube/Google! I’m a Gachatuber myself, and I’m really scared in case I loose my channel, AND my fans!! So many peoples’ lives depend on Youtube for making money, please, stop. This isn’t fair on the Youtubers’ themselves, nor is it fair for the viewer of the videos! I hope you see this FTC and reconsider..

If my video posted on my channel contains cartoon/drawn characters fighting, bleeding, etc. Does that still count as children's content?

And, if my video has a cartoon character swearing or talking about something that may be inappropriate to children, does that still count as children's content?

Thank you, I hope this new law doesn't put many content creators at risk.

Please provide a clear description of the COPPA guidelines, they are too broad and too general.

Everything is too vague, the "The Rule sets out additional factors the FTC will consider in determining whether your content is child-directed" is to vague.

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.

So, how does this address those who craft for adults? You didn't address that in your examples. Will a crafter be safe from COPPA if their content is clearly directed toward adults?

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 too broad of a stroke I am an adult and more than half of the media listed by you to be geared towards children apeals to me as the context of the orignal writing of this law was made during the age where I was a child I have grown since and my tastes and manner of speach have remained please reconsider how this law is meant to be enforced, as although I am an artist myself and make works that appeal to all ages. If a user states they are above the age of 13 then the adult responsible should be held responsible for it if they are committing perjury.

I want to animate content to upload on YouTube. I don't want to advertise this content, I just want to upload for everyone to watch, and I have some questions about how this will affect me:
1. I don't want to advertise my content, so how would I mark my channel if it's "Kid Friendly" or not?

2. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVZsbE4E68w) This video shows what will happen to animation content if they want to not be marked "Kid
Friendly" I don't want to do this, so how would this be applied to the content I want to upload?

3. I don't have the money to pay a fine of up to $42,530 nor do I have the ability to pay for a lawyer if the fine is taken to court. What would I do
then (if this were to happen)?

4. How would not advertising my content affect my choice of being "Kid Friendly" or not/ getting fined?

I would appreciate it if I could get a response soon, so I would know what to do about the animated content I want to upload. I would also appreciate it if it was explained how not advertising my content would also affect me (The chance of getting fined, and how I would mark my content on the platform)?

Please make YouTube better by helping out YouTubers who break the law without knowing they did and please look at channel that are kid friendly and see if they are really kid friendly and please make sure to help tell parents that they should watch what are the kids are doing in the internet.

Please understand that it is the parents job to watch what their kid is watching, it is not your job or YouTube's job.

The COPPA rule in it's current form is not specific enough in its definition of what constitutes programming directed to children. My specific concern is that owners of channels that teach the making of and display hand made journals and books seem to fall into a huge crack. The journals and books and the images that fill them may in fact be bright, cheerful, colorful and include Disney and Disney-ish pictures, but the content is specifically directed at adults who have the skills and wisdom to use the tools required to produce these journals and books. I'm sure people involved in other creative hobbies could tell a similar story. Please do not enact COPPA as it is currently written.

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.

please stop replying with something we've already read

I have read the new standers you are putting on YouTube content creators is not right when it comes to Anima, because lumping all animation together is not correct. Yes a lot of animation is for kids, but most is ment for people ages 16 and up. I understand that a large majority of the people that work for the F.T.C. do not watch or understand anima, but you should do some due diligence and research the differences in all types of anima.

PLEASE! Most of us create content for a mixed-up audience. Put a "Directed to mixed-up audience" category on Youtube. It would be simple for all of us. PLEASE!

As a viewer of YouTube, and as a Mother and Grandmother I know that Children are naturally inquisitive about everything, so how would a creator ever be able to make a video about anything without a child wanting to watch it! And what YouTube and Google did was not the fault of the Video Creators, YouTube and Google were the ones collecting IP Address's or names and personal information, they were the one's running the website, just like they have collected all personal data on everyone that has ever crossed their internet path. I ask that you please look to a different solution, such as the parents allowing the children to use their devices and accessing YouTube only under a child's login account.

What kind of music would be specifically could be directed to kids?

i know that this is just to protect kids, but whatever law you make, it will always be parents and community that make them safe from any content. go to places where crime can be seen by kids and thought that its just normal. do youtube content have something to do with what they will acquire? there is youtube kids that my son use and its enough son to view appropriate content. even normal tv channels will show lots of appealing to kids advertisements, how would they comply with this vague law?

FTC... You are not answering a single comment or question here, so why have a comment section? My content is not "MADE FOR" kids, but is perfectly appropriate for them to view. YOU HAVE NO ANSWER TO THIS SCENARIO.

It seems a bit excessive. Maybe just disable info gathering on YouTube without penalizing content creators.

This is killing YouTube! Please stop this. This is nonsense. So many you tubers are going to loose their jobs. This is not YouTube’s fault, because you aren’t even allowed to have a YouTube account under the age of 13. It is the parents that are supposed to watch their kids watching stuff on YouTube, not YouTube babysitting the children. Please stop this COPPA thing and let us enjoy YouTube with how it was and how everyone enjoyed it.

From comment to comment people have been blindly panicking. Although it might not reflect rational thoughts and just end up wasting time. I feel like the law is fair, but there could be more done, but targeted more at the corporations like Youtube to help Content Creators be less confused.

Although Youtube paid the fine they could still do some more, I think Youtube should split the audiences or kick kids out of their site.

If they split the audiences, Youtube could ask for either the date of birth or an email which would verify that the person is at least 13 years of age and Youtube Kids could be for children under 13. Where I feel, Youtube Kids should still have some sort of parent consent whether to have an email sent to their parents/guardians to use Youtube Kids

With kicking out kids entirely, although a huge chunk of viewers would drop it would be safer and easier. Where Youtube could still use the date of birth or email to make sure whether or not they could go on the website.

By having both children under the age 13 and people 13 years or older on the same site it would be confusing. It would be hard to decide between and in-between content made for adults and content msde for kids under the age of 13.

In conclusion, corporations need to do more for causing the rules to be broken and having every single audience on one site would not be a good idea. I think its more of a decission of splitting the audience into two groups or cutting off kids under 13 entirely. Having the corporations do more to split the audiences would go a long way in making the internet safer for children

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