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

Ok, specific question:
If I mark a video as “not safe for kids” for the sake of safety, but in fact it would be ok for kids to watch as there is nothing sexual, offensive, etc; am I liable to receive a fine? Ultimately if I’ve marked it as “not safe” even if it is, I’m not subjecting kids to any unsafe content am I? The only negative as far as I can see is that I’m limiting my audience. No one is at risk at all, right?

Please reconsider. I love YouTube more than anything. The penalties for this law is way too extreme. Some new youtubers most likely have the money to pay $42,000 for every video they made. And if you wiped out Google and YouTube you would be taking giant chunks of the internet out. Some people would thrown into chaos. Do you know how many hours people spend on YouTube or how many searches google get a day. I mean a searched this website via GOOGLE! If parents have a problem with YouTube then they should have the option to get YouTube Kids. Seriously, I think you should reconsider. Please, please, please reconsider. I'm begging you.

YouTube Kids is already a thing, and this rule should be taken down. YouTube's content creators shouldn't be responsible for what a child watches, making it unfair. It really is unfair. It's not the creator's fault that a child watches a certain video, it should be the parent's fault at least.

42,000 dollars fine is an excessive and unusual punishment against online content creators on youtube. Punish those who promote scams or those who promote illicit offers. Do not try to censor the internet because of a few bad people. Punish those who deserve to be punished as this act goes against the first amendment. Youtube has created a seperate application called Youtube Kids for children under 13 years of age. Youtube by default is for 13 yearolds and up.

Parents should be more responsible of what their kids watch, we creators want to make content that everyone would enjoy, you should organize your rules better so that people may understand. Creators shouldn't be responsible of what children do without their parents knowing.

Regarding the new guidelines.
Please do some more research on what is considered ‘kid-directed’ versus ‘kid-attractive’ as it is simply too vague.
Defining the exact parameters as to what is considered kid-directed would help a lot. Thank you!!

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.

FTC your rules and regulations do protect us but this COPPA act could mean the end for many of these people’s childhoods that you are trying to protect it not asking to get rid of the act for good but change the rules-thank you in advance

I don't understand why we cannot do a sort of rating system like what we have with movies! This proposition in my opinion is too vague and will in the end be a detriment to creator and also pushing children to find a different platform to watch the things they like resulting in the child finding unsafe sites to be on. Please consider postponing this till we have more details and a better plan and system. Thank you for your time.

I am currently going through all my videos now. I am a crafter and also show recipes on my channel. Some of the things I craft such as my recent Advent calendar can be made for children and adults alike. Yes I made it for my grandchildren but I dont feel the content is made for children. I would never hand a child a hot glue gun to use, for instance. Do I have to list that video as made for children when my intention was to make it strictly for adults?? I'm confused since in my crafts I use items to transform them into other things for Adults.

Setting your audience setting shouldnt be where your monetization gets demonized. Also having a mixed audience option would help and save many channels that adults and kids love.

I strongly suspect that the original purpose for this new version of COPPA is to give the FTC massive censorship powers over the internet. If that werent the case they would be putting the liability on parents or platforms to protect children from exposure to adult content instead of on individual content creators. Whoever was able to push through the extra clearer standards described in the above article in order to help protect content creators despite opposition is a hero and I salute them, whoever they are. Thank you so much and keep up the good work!

First of all, I’m all for protecting my kids but it’s not majority the responsibility of content creators to do this, it’s mine! Parents need to work harder at being stronger “guardians” for their children like enforcing restrictions and screen time while they’re super young, children understanding that they are not the boss of themselves and parents taking control and full responsibility as they should of their own children. I believe that the world has a responsibility to protect children...I do...laws should come into play and punishment should fit the crime but the rearing of children starts at home with the 2 people who decided to have children. Now that those 2 or 1 person has children and start off not wanting anyone to tell them how to raise their kids are some of these parents who want to control everyone else because they can’t control their kids now!!!

Secondly, I’m a crafter who has content on YouTube that is and never has been geared towards children. I do not believe that if I share how I made Hello Kitty invitations for a friend that I should or my content fall under COPPA. This isn't right to lump my content under something that has been geared towards adults which all of my content is by the way. I made a video of a scrapbook layout I made of my daughter using a “back to school” themed paper....again geared towards parents and sharing my ideas of how to preserve a memory but using child like theme products. How and why is this something that would fall under COPPA?

Please, we shouldn’t be punished for something a lot of us aren’t doing. Make it work for everyone involved! Thanks

This rule is way to vague and is something that deserves clarification and specifics. There needs to be an allowance for content creator to be creative without being penalized for it!

Why not allow children to sign up with a special kids account that parents have to create, then treat kids differently than adults based on age, not content? Features that we don’t want taken away for ALL users include subscriptions and comments. Very few channels have 90%+ kids, and most have both. The logic of the proposed solution is baffling.

I fail to see how under the CFR a content provider meets the definition of "operator." The definition specifically applies to those who collect personal information. While YouTube and other platforms may collect such information from the content provider's channel, the content provider does not collect that information. You can please identify the provision under the statue that is being interpreted as implicating content providers as operators.

The term "operator" is defined in the Definitions of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Here is a part of the definition of operator: 

The term "operator"-

(A) means any person who operates a website located on the Internet or an online service and who collects or maintains personal information from or about the users of or visitors to such website or online service, or on whose behalf such information is collected or maintained, where such website or online service is operated for commercial purposes, including any person offering products or services for sale through that website or online service, involving commerce- [ go to the link to read the rest of the definition]

I feel that COPPA is overreaching. I don't think the government should be parenting. YouTube said 13 and older to go on this site, why don't you go after all those parents and toddlers who broke the rules? That would be ridiculous, because we all know parents gave nonverbal consent when they handed a tablet or phone to their child AND logged in for them ect. Why is that not enough? Why can't you let parents decide what their own children do? Parents are adults and they provide for their children AND through taxes provide for the government as well, they should be allowed to decide what they give their kids access to without having to jump through the hoops COPPA lists to get parental consent.
ALSO I find it VERY insulting and prejudicial for the government to tell me that everything I enjoy as a productive tax paying ADULT is "children's content". You are implying that what I like is not for me but only for children!
I enjoy everything on your really long list of very very vague "children's content" Because I like crafts and toy collecting according to you I'm a child.
I feel as though COPPA hurts children more than it helps because anyone in their right mind will stop making family friendly content so as to not be attacked by the FTC. But children and teens will continue to go on the internet no matter what the government says or does so they will then be more exposed to inappropriate content because of COPPAs broad and strict rules.
Plus, once children turn 13 they will be tracked until they die so what really did COPPA do? Postpone the inevitable a year? Two years? In the end it will have been for nothing.
Statistically the people most likely to hurt a child physically are people that child actually knows in their real life and not someone online. So COPPA doesn't help the majority of children. But it does A LOT of HARM to a lot of children and teens and adults by taking away incentives to make family friendly content online. The world and the US is a better place with more family friendly content online. And it is ignorant to think that people will continue to make the same quantity of family friendly content online with harsh COPPA laws looming to penalize around every corner.
After January if I want to watch a craft video about clay sculpting with bright fun colors on YouTube I may not be able to find or watch or save that on YouTube, if I want to make a family friendly video to share with all ages I probably won't because I don't want the COPPA police to come fine me money I don't have for trying to put more good out into the world.

I find it VERY insulting and prejudicial for the government to tell me that everything I enjoy as a productive tax paying ADULT is "children's content". You are implying that what I like is not for me but only for children!
I enjoy everything on your really long list of very very vague "children's content" Because I like crafts and toy collecting according to you I'm a child.

I feel as though COPPA hurts children more than it helps because anyone in their right mind will stop making family friendly content so as to not be attacked by the FTC. But children and teens will continue to go on the internet no matter what the government says or does so they will then be more exposed to inappropriate content because of COPPAs broad and strict rules.
Plus, once children turn 13 they will be tracked until they die so what really did COPPA do? Postpone the inevitable a year? Two years? In the end it will have been for nothing.

Statistically the people most likely to hurt a child physically are people that child actually knows in their real life and not someone online. So COPPA doesn't help the majority of children. But it does A LOT of HARM to a lot of children and teens and adults by taking away incentives to make family friendly content online. The world and the US is a better place with more family friendly content online. And it is ignorant to think that people will continue to make the same quantity of family friendly content online with harsh COPPA laws looming to penalize around every corner.

After January if I want to watch a craft video about clay sculpting with bright fun colors on YouTube I may not be able to find or watch or save that on YouTube, if I want to make a family friendly video to share with all ages I probably won't because I don't want the COPPA police to come fine me money I don't have for trying to put more good out into the world.

I HAVE UPLOADED LESSONS , POEMS AND GRAMMAR FROM CLASS 5 TO 12 TEXTBOOKS , WILL MY VIDEOS COME UNDER MADE FOR CHILDREN

I have a video of an RC rock crawler and a dog trying to catch a ball. Do I need to add death-metal music to the videos and perhaps do a split screen with people getting injured or something? Is that what the FTC wants?

There is a lot of content that is directed at all audiences, including children, like video-game walkthoughs, movie reviews, etc, and many creators focusing on primarily such content. And, once again, content creators aren't the ones collecting the data from children, and all the children aren't even supposed to be using Youtube unless they are 13 or older - there is Youtube Kids for younger children. The parents should monitor their child's Internet activity, platform should make sure parents know what they are consenting to, it's not the responsibility of the content creators.There is so much wrong with that. Please no.

This is ridiculous.Content creators are innocent.Why not add a privacy data collecting asking button(for parents)before a child-directed video ?If yes,the video goes on,and if not,the video can't be seen.So children data won't be collected without agreement,and the ads won't be seen,either.Content creators will feel free to create much better content for kids.If not that good,their videos won't be seen because of low recommendation.

This is an absolutely terrible solution.This could ruin any type of video-essay, theory, discussion or informative content that uses clips from movies, films and other content, regardless of its adherence to fair-use or satire rules. These restrictions are needlessly draconian and the equivalent of smashing a fly with a sledgehammer. It would be in everyone's best interest if you reconsidered, otherwise you risk ruining one of the highest-trafficked entertainment websites currently around, and destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of content creators on the platform.

Not to mention the fact that when you try to hit a fly with a sledgehammer you usually missed the fly entirely.

Children will continue to use YouTube, Google will continue to Target them with odds, and meanwhile Google will continue to record their voices through its Google assistant program that is now built into Smart TVs everywhere and parents won't have the right to refuse.

If the FTC wants to be serious they need to address the problem at its source. Google could prevent any of its child-directed ads from being subject to its targeting rules. Just like how it's OK for a television station to display child-directed ads in a time slot with child-directed content, as long as the ad isn't tracking the child and or collecting information from the child there's not a problem.

The FTC has brought out the sledgehammer, but the fly is still hanging out unaffected well everything else in the room is destroyed. That's pretty much the situation we're in.

Will your channel get deleted from youtube if you violate COPPA?

Very vague. What if I make animations but they contain adult themes? Like blood, swearing, etc.?

what if your content is like a game thats 10+ like minecraft if someone says bad words in the minecraft chat is that "made for kids" also make a youtube option for videos for all ages cause they need to be more speific about this cause i dont know if my content is made for kids or not

What about a gaming. There is games like Fortnite, they are rated for teens but almost every age group plays it. Are games like that safe?

Totally uncool, homeslice. There are a lot of things that can appeal to kids, So why sue everyone who just happens to have kids watching their videos.Youtubers should be able to choose if they are considered kid-friendly, and maybe then have the videos hidden on restricted mode and youtube kids?

You might think you are doing good work by protecting kids. However, without targeted advertising kids are going to get advertisements directed to adults, :( This law was created in the 1990s. Please don't kill the creativity of people just because you can't understand the internet.

This is as if a father leaves a minor the car and the one who made the car is to blame. The responsibility and the fine should be for the owner of the YouTube account that lets a child under 13 years of age view the content. It is time for parents to be responsible for their actions.

My only question is about family friendly content that is directed towards all ages. What should I do to prevent being sued and still making content for all ages?

A lot of YouTube is made up of commentary videos that talk about things such as shows, people, news, ect. The likely hood of someone making a video that features animation or clips of celebrities while still not being made for children is incredibly high. Also, visual content, subject matter, and music are all terms that are incredibly vague and I feel like, for the most part, unless the channel offending these conditions are blatant with their intentions there is a lot of room for misinterpretation. What is the FTC going to make sure innocent channels are not harmed in the process? Will there really be time taken to evaluate every possible offender and every possible video for full context?

I'm trying to start an animal rescue/non profit. I makes my channel for adults from inception, but many of my videos feature animals that I tend. Kittens, cats, dogs a horse. I'm speaking to adults in the videos. Am I better from trying to earn money to save animals because a child might click on a kitten video?

You people just told hundreds of thousands up to millions of people, that the living income they get for the incredible work they do, is being taken away, how do you people sleep at night? You just took away so many jobs in a blink of an eye, do not do this, finding a job is hard and these people, depending on what they do, will struggle, this should be a crime, I hope you come to your senses and rethink this outrageous decision

Why should every YouTuber be demonetized cause they are playing game whit animated characters and colors. I am going to say one other thing OK BOOMER

Youtube is a PG13 site

But kids use it because parents let the internet look after their children

Plus a question

You can get finned for not marking a video as child-directed content

But what about small creators who don't get paid for uploading

Will they get fined?

Time to go Facebook and watch some videos... Youtube? Whats is that?... (2020 Adult)

There is so much grey area here. I don't want to be rude but a channel who makes animations yet swears and marks it is adult, can still be fined because of animations? There are mixed of both children things and adult things and you need to make the rules more clear.

playlists are also affected

This rule is unclear, much I do not understand and does not seem to make the slightest sense, it is the duty of parents to take care of children. not from the content creators.

This entire thing shouldn't be applied to YouTube in the first place because to have an account on YouTube you have to agree to the Terms of Service and the ToS specifically tells you that you have to be 13 years of age or older to use the site. Coppa is meant to protect those that are under 13.

Can you (the FTC) consider a "general" option where the content isnt geared specifically for adults or kids?

I dont have any ads on my videos, and my channel is literally just video clips of things i did in T or higher rated gamea that i thought were cool and didnt want clogging up my hardrive. Is this going to effect me at all?

This is not fair to creators of crafts , rainbow loom charms made with a chrochet hook , Sculpture and sewing among other things.
Also family vlogs. These are my main interests and I'm 55 if it matters.
All of the above videos have stuff in them you mention for kids like animals, kids, animation and bright colors. And product reviews so you can know if it's worth buying. If they go away, a big portion of the viewers will be leaving too.

If I curse and play kid games like Roblox and Fortnite which should I pick kids or not for kids make something for this please, like if you curse and play game Rated e10+ like in the middle and they lose have of there money If you do this, I won't have to stress this more than I already am.

It seems somewhat odd to propose a rule without exact definitions for all that should be considered under what is defined as "childrens content" though it isn't easily definable, especially since some areas would certainly be opinionated. without definitions for what things like "childrens activities" and what kinds of music/audio would be seen as directed to children it's hard to say exactly what would be considered for kids and what wouldn't without proper definitions and little time to review said definitions seeing as this issue is much more complex than it seems and we seemingly will not be getting definitions until all comments are reviewed or january 1st 2020 when COPPA takes effect making it a difficult question to ask yourself without the proper information being known and fully understood.

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