YouTube channel owners: Is your content directed to children?

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Under COPPA, how do I know if my channel is “directed to children”? Since the FTC and New York Attorney General announced their September 2019 settlement with YouTube for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule, we’ve heard that question from channel owners – sometimes called content creators. If you’re a channel owner who shares content on user-generated platforms like YouTube, read on for FTC staff guidance about the applicability of the COPPA Rule and how those covered by the Rule can comply with its requirements.

The FTC action against YouTube and Google

The lawsuit against YouTube and Google alleged that the companies illegally collected personal information from children, in violation of COPPA. According to the complaint, the companies collected that information from viewers of child-directed YouTube channels in the form of persistent identifiers that track users across the Internet, but didn’t notify parents and get their consent. To settle the case, YouTube and Google agreed to create a mechanism so that channel owners can designate when the videos they upload to YouTube are – to use the words of COPPA – “directed to children.” The purpose of this requirement is to make sure that both YouTube and channel owners are complying with the law.

A COPPA recap

That provision of the settlement has raised questions among content creators about how to determine if what they upload to YouTube or other platforms is “directed to children.” The answer requires a brief summary of some key COPPA provisions. Passed by Congress in 1998, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is a federal law that protects the privacy of children under 13. COPPA’s foundational principle is one that most people can agree on: Parents – not kids, companies, platforms, or content creators – should be in control when it comes to information collected from children online.

The FTC enforces the law through the COPPA Rule. In general, COPPA requires operators of commercial websites and online services that are directed to children (more about that in a minute) to provide notice and obtain verifiable parental consent before they collect personal information from kids under 13.

The COPPA Rule defines “personal information” to include obvious things like a child’s first and last name or home address, but that’s not all. Under COPPA, personal information also covers what are called persistent identifiers – behind-the-scenes code that recognizes a user over time and across different sites or online services. That could be an IP address or a cookie when it’s used to serve targeted ads. Keep in mind that an operator also might be collecting personal information through an open comment field on its site or service that allows a user under 13 to make personal information publicly available. For example, think of a comment like this on a child-directed site: My name is Mary Jones from Springfield. I love this video!

How COPPA applies to channel owners

So how does COPPA apply to channel owners who upload their content to YouTube or another third-party platform? COPPA applies in the same way it would if the channel owner had its own website or app. If a channel owner uploads content to a platform like YouTube, the channel might meet the definition of a “website or online service” covered by COPPA, depending on the nature of the content and the information collected. If the content is directed to children and if the channel owner, or someone on its behalf (for example, an ad network), collects personal information from viewers of that content (for example, through a persistent identifier that tracks a user to serve interest-based ads), the channel is covered by COPPA. Once COPPA applies, the operator must provide notice, obtain verifiable parental consent, and meet COPPA’s other requirements. For information on how to comply with COPPA, please visit the FTC’s COPPA page for our Six-Step Compliance Plan for Your Business.

How channel owners can determine if their content is directed to children

Under COPPA, there is no one-size-fits-all answer about what makes a site directed to children, but we can offer some guidance. To be clear, your content isn’t considered “directed to children” just because some children may see it. However, if your intended audience is kids under 13, you’re covered by COPPA and have to honor the Rule’s requirements.

The Rule sets out additional factors the FTC will consider in determining whether your content is child-directed:

  • the subject matter,
  • visual content,
  • the use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives,
  • the kind of music or other audio content,
  • the age of models,
  • the presence of child celebrities or celebrities who appeal to children,
  • language or other characteristics of the site,
  • whether advertising that promotes or appears on the site is directed to children, and
  • competent and reliable empirical evidence about the age of the audience.

The determination of whether content is child-directed will be clearer in some contexts than in others, but we can share some general rules of thumb. First, unless you’re affirmatively targeting kids, there are many subject matter categories where you don’t have to worry about COPPA. For example, if your videos are about traditionally adult activities like employment, finances, politics, home ownership, home improvement, or travel, you’re probably not covered unless your content is geared toward kids. The same would be true for videos aimed at high school or college students. On the other hand, if your content includes traditional children’s pastimes or activities, it may be child-directed. For example, the FTC recently determined that an online dress-up game was child-directed.

Second, just because your video has bright colors or animated characters doesn’t mean you’re automatically covered by COPPA. While many animated shows are directed to kids, the FTC recognizes there can be animated programming that appeals to everyone.

Third, the complaint in the YouTube case offers some examples of channels the FTC considered to be directed to children. For example, many content creators explicitly stated in the “About” section of their YouTube channel that their intended audience was children under 13. Other channels made similar statements in communications with YouTube. In addition, many of the channels featured popular animated children’s programs or showed kids playing with toys or participating in other child-oriented activities. Some of the channel owners also enabled settings that made their content appear when users searched for the names of popular toys or animated characters. Want to see the FTC’s analysis in context? Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint.

Finally, if you’ve applied the factors listed in the COPPA Rule and still wonder if your content is “directed to children,” it might help to consider how others view your content and content similar to yours. Has your channel been reviewed on sites that evaluate content for kids? Is your channel – or channels like yours – mentioned in blogs for parents of young children or in media articles about child-directed content? Have you surveyed your users or is there other empirical evidence about the age of your audience?

What are the possible penalties for violating COPPA?

The Rule allows for civil penalties of up to $42,530 per violation, but the FTC considers a number of factors in determining the appropriate amount, including a company’s financial condition and the impact a penalty could have on its ability to stay in business. While Google and YouTube paid $170 million, in another COPPA case settled this year, the operator paid a total civil penalty of $35,000.

Isn’t the FTC taking another look at the COPPA Rule?

Yes, the FTC is currently evaluating the Rule in light of rapid changes in technology. If you would like to comment on the effectiveness of the COPPA Rule and whether changes are needed, the FTC has extended the comment deadline to December 9, 2019.

Where can channel owners go for more information?

A look at the factors in the COPPA Rule will help most channel owners determine if their content is directed to children. If you’re still unsure about how COPPA applies to you, consider contacting an attorney or consulting with one of the COPPA Safe Harbor programs – self-regulatory groups that offer guidance on how operators can comply with the law. Visit the FTC’s website for a list of currently approved Safe Harbor organizations. For more resources, visit the FTC’s Children’s Privacy page for our Six-Step Compliance Plan for Your Business.

 
 
 

Comments

This 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.

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.

The issue with this implementation is that the content creators themselves do not collect the data, most of the time they don’t even see the data, and until recently, most didn’t even know the data for children that young was being collected. It is reasonable to have content creators mark their videos so that youtube knows what to collect data from, but holding the creators accountable for collected the data of children when Google/YouTube collects the data anyways regardless of input from the creator is holding the wrong party accountable. Google/Youtube collects, uses, and benefits from the data, meanwhile the creators benefit from it, but do not collect or have access to the data in question.

Also, reminding Google/YouTube that there is a thing known as “for everyone content” does exist, because YouTube’s methodology for this change proves that either they do not have a grasp on the law they are violating, or are attempting to violate it more by using the content creators as the scapegoat for the process. Both COPPA’s regulations and Youtube/Google’s regulations are so broad, even in this update, that nobody can reasonably be assumed to know what constitutes child-directed content.

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

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.

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.

This whole thing is absolutely absurd !

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.

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

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.

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