YouTube channel owners: Is your content directed to children?

Share This Page

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 terrible!!!

Are you really gonna destroy youtube I understand you want to make YouTube better but what your doing is actually insane but at least make the people at YouTube change there minds about what's gonna happen in 2020

Please do not make this rule permanent it is not the creators job to look out for children under the age of 18, but it is the parents job. Please don't make you tube like this.

YouTube may be a large company but that doesn’t give you the right to shut down people who are getting paid for this but can’t

We spend so much time on animations and everything it can take up to a year. Please add a key that could say 13+ As they are not considered children at least. Also I can’t afford the fines so that’s another problem.

Why is it so vague?! I literally understand only some part of it...

I don’t think this is fair. You’re destroying people’s job by saying “ tHiS nEeDs tO bE kId FrIeNdLy “ . As mat pat said. “ Youtube is more focused on the more mature audience “ . So maybe not use Coppa of FTC on YouTube , I don’t think kids or teens or higher would like to see their favorite youtubers content changed to follow the rules of Coppa,or I dont think they’ll like to see that their favorite YouTubers channel is gone because of Coppa

Please reconsider or at least clarify what you all are saying. It would mean a lot as a entertainment channel

My videos are only short clips of places or events I've seen or been to. Definitely nothing that would interest children.

This law makes no sense of content providers. I use my channel primarily to relay and save things for high school classroom. How can I control what a child will watch? Isn’t that a parent responsibility? Why would I be penalized? I don’t collect data. I have no way to collect data. As per usual the solution to a real problem is not this current Coppa law.

I am very confused about this. As a Youtuber, I understand that we need simple rules to follow. If I'm not able to upload my videos, this may lead me to deleting my Channel

Where is the parent's responsibility in all of this discussion?

If a parent is paying for content on a service for themselves or their child, great, identify the account as a child account and have these regulations and companies should adhere to them. If creator's are using a service like YouTube to provide content, then it should be Google's responsibility to understand a child is watching and take appropriate action to not target them with ads. The creator can help Google by specifying if they specifically mean their content to be geared towards kids, but otherwise there should be NO burden or threat of legal action placed on a creator providing their intellectual content.

I agree. There are lots of ways that Google could do this without Shifting the responsibility. For starters, Google could allow sub accounts that would allow parents to control what type of information is collected about them. Google could also be required to not use tracking for any advertisement that is directed at children. That part should be a no-brainer. If the issue is that ads are directed at children then don't worry about if the video is directed at children, worried about the ad being directed at children. Just disable tracking on that type of AD. It's that simple. The only remaining issue are the comments, which again could be solved with sub accounts. A parent would have to explicitly choose to allow the child to comment on videos which would completely make the entire YouTube sight compliant with Coppa without having to put all the content creators through this mess.

This rule has many faults, I believe that the FTC does not understand the difference between kid-friendly, being appropriate for kids, and kid-oriented, being exciting for kids. There are many YouTube channels that do kid friendly activities, such as playing a video game, but maybe the commentary doesn’t appeal to children. These YouTubers are put in a hard position, because they can either say Not Made for Kids, and get fined for incorrect categorization, or say Made for Kids, and receive less ad revenue, and viewers will receive no notifications. This is extremely problematic for YouTubers who make a living off of YouTube. Also, I would like to make it clear that YouTube kids is a thing, and kids can fake their age, making YouTube’s child security weak in the first place. My proposal is, since the rule in question is about children’s privacy, fining channels should be only implemented for marking non kid friendly videos as kid friendly, therefore exposing kids to obscene content. Although, the FTC should also make a way to mark videos as non kid oriented, when YouTubers create content friendly to kids, but not that kids would find interesting, therefore not receiving a fine for mislabeling. I hope these changes can be implemented to make YouTube a better site all around.

Every content creator on YouTuber uses what the FTC considers child friendly.
However our channels are not all aimed at children their aimed at general audiences.
And the 90% payment decrease will put us in bankruptcy especially if you Sue us for $42,530 per video this new COPPA law is unreasonable as well as

Really? You're pushing COPPA out like this? This isn't finished being revised and improved, and the fact that COPPA isn't finished being revised shows how much you REALLY don't understand content creation. Kill this project or narrow down the options towards a simple solution of a choice for content creators EXAMPLE THAT YOU SHOULD FOLLOW AND USE: Content creators are required to choice "for children" or "not for children" before uploading videos and other content. Along side this option a set of rules for the "for children" option will be listed for content creators to follow. In doing this, the content will be shown to children while all other videos will not be.

FTC, Thank you for the this letter and the directions to review pages 10-14 of the complaint.

To folks posting: if you haven't read it, go read it now and think about commonalities in the complaints listed (Hint key words are "About " and "YouTube Kids")

FTC, There is clearly a lot of vagueness in "the subject matter" criteria that is causing confusion among content producers, can you provide additional links to promulgated regulations or court findings (beyond the YouTube Google agreement) that content generators could review to better understand what constitutes, in the FTC's opinion, "child-directed subject matter?" Thank you.

I am not against this I just want to say I don’t know how to accept this. Since I don’t know how it’s not letting me upload. If you could tell me how to I would and I could upload again.

I feel that there are a lot of videos that don't fall into a particular category. I feel the new rules need to be revised and clarified.

This will destroy the gaming side, review side, and even some of the comedy of Youtube. People will be too afraid to upload, and those who do will go bankrupt because of fines. Youtube as a whole will go bankrupt, so please, don't do this. Or at least change the rules so they allow people to still profit from youtube.

What happens if adults like (For example) watching people play an online dressing game because it is funny to watch?

I have a modest YouTube channel with several thousand subscribers. I’ve been making a series of episodic videos with serious, dramatic, adult plotlines, including crime, murder and revenge as story elements, similar to what you might expect from an adult-oriented prime time television drama, and with the highest production values I can achieve. But I exclusively use footage from specific video games to create the visuals that dramatize the story along with the dialogue (because I don’t have even remotely the capacity to shoot it as live video). So what are my options after these YouTube/COPPA changes? If I state (correctly) that my videos are not for children, the FTC can still decide the videos are child-directed because of the inclusion of video game visual content, and proceed to fine me on that basis. Conversely, I certainly can’t and wouldn’t want to represent my videos as being for kids, for the reasons I have explained above ... attempting to make such a claim would rightly get my channel deleted at a bare minimum. On one hand the FTC website says that they acknowledge there is such a thing as “animation” that is for adults or a mixed audience, but the same has not been stated about “video games”; in fact I have seen “video games” pointed to as blanket evidence of content being kid-directed. And then there’s the FTC themselves in their press conference talking about YouTube content creators in the kind of disparaging terms one would normally expect to be reserved for pornographers, which does not inspire me to just trust that I would be treated fairly, no matter what I do or what the FTC website vaguely suggests. As such, I’ve concluded that the only completely safe option for me is to delete my existing videos, stop making any more such videos, and effectively terminate my channel before 1/1/20. I assume it was the FTC’s intention here to suppress artistic endeavors, because that’s the effect they are having on me.

Craft channels and artist demonstrations should not be handled as outlined above. These channels directed at adults should NOT be penalized for child viewers even if child viewers use a parental account.

Sad example of misguided FTC regs.

What happens if I delete my channel before January 1, 2020?

If i’m honest, that fine is something I can’t afford to pay off if I ever do get it. I’m only a small youtuber with 68 subs and I dont wanna be fined that much. All of the things I’ve done on my channel are about Minecraft, Terraria, and Fortnite (haven’t played fortnite since season 10, i’m a clown). The only minecraft thing I’ve done was a livestream, same with terraria. I dont exactly target my content toward only children, but a mixed audience, and what I hear is that YouTube didn’t add a “mixed” option for that. And, I’m using an iPad for my channel to record, edit, AND upload. I have to use the mobile YouTube studio as well to check things, like comments and how my videos are doing, etc. I haven’t yet seen an option to check the COPPA laws and idk what to do.

How does art-making videos fit in the for kids or not for kids category on youtube? Is it the subject matter of the art in question (eg. if it is an animated character from a movie being draw/painted/sculpted?) Will there be a list created of various types of video content eg. arts and craft making, tutorials, with the dos and don't of being for kids?

I am a parent who posts on my personal account home videos unlisted to share links of videos of my child under 13 doing child activities. Am I required to post privacy statement, list as child audience, and disable comments? Am I at risk for being fined? Or does the law only apply to business?

Thank you for your time and looking out for kids to protect them from relentless marketing aka unboxing videos that people use to build net worth through subscribers and get free swag. For shame!

I think one of my biggest questions now is this: where do general audience videos come in? Videos that are safe for children under 13, but not targeted towards them. Would those videos have to follow COPPA, or are they fine?

What about roblox myths and legends? Some of them have blood and things that are not for kids.

Ok, let's say I instead of deleting my videos, I put them all on private. Will my videos still be fined if one of them is considered a violation? I don't want to delete my channel/videos, but I'm prefer not getting any fines.

How far does the concept of "on behalf of" go?

Let us imagine I upload videos to Youtube. I describe my channel as "not for kids", tag all my videos as "not for kids" and even insert a warning message at the start of the video.

YouTube's algorithms analyse my content, decide it's child appropriate and, without informing me, insert ads directed at children in my video.

Is my video covered by COPPA, according to the FTC? Will I be fined up tp $42000, despite the fact I took all reasonable steps to be compliant?

Well, this certainly clarifies things and feels a lot less like threats. the comparison to online dress up games is a God send, as it certainly helps gives a benchmark. I do think it needs more thought, but a step is a step, and I think the scythe of financial ruin isn’t hovering over the neck of people now. This feels a lot less threatening and more so understanding. I feel progress, though there is more work to be done. I think the law it self deserves a look, and I think there are still holes in this, but it’s an improvement.

Some content creators only work with animation and story telling that are not necessarily directed towards kids. What about them?

Why torture the channel creators for doing nothing wrong? They weren’t stealing the information

Hi FTC!

First of all, I really appreciate your way to protect children on YouTube by making a rules called COPPA.

But, I'm really concerned about new YouTube rules that prohibit "Made For Kids" videos to have personalized ads. Many creators dont like this new rules and some of them assumed 2020 is the end of YouTube. Some creators decide to stop making money from YouTube and delete their channels. This is hard for some creators, especially those who get their main incomes from YouTube.

Although, I'm not American. I care about others channels. I have a good idea for protecting children on YouTube!

So, here's my idea.

Parents/guardians turn on "Kids Mode" from Settings>Advanced Setting>Turn Kids Mode on or off. There's age setting like in Youtube Kids too! Make sure the setting is out of reach from children but not hard enough for set (doesn’t require codes, password, etc).

When Kids Mode turned on, the restriction for "Made For Kids" content will apply except some features:

-Videos can appear in Recommended and it will be searchable.
-Cards will appear, but some videos might not available in Kids Mode.

And some features should be added for children's safety

-Can block vids/channels.
-Search history and watching history will be separate like this, "Watching/search history in Kids Mode" and "Watching/search History". This feature will help parents to monitoring their children.

Every time a creator uploads a video, they must tell what their video is about. If the video contain bad language, intense violence, NSFW, or other things that kids shouldn't see, the video will not be available in Kids Mode.

If Kids Mode turned off, YouTube will function as usual without any Kids Mode's restriction. So, if we watch Made For Kids vids/live stream while Kids Mode is off, there’s no specific restriction. So, all audience from kids to adults have freedom to use YouTube!

Thank you for understanding!
William Rex, one of Youtube’s creator.”

So, is this a ban on animation, comics and video games, if you mark it for adults? And that's whether it's suitable for children or is made for adults?

I make a videos about plane spotting on YouTube and I am not directing it to children but any age can watch my videos because it’s all just watching airplanes takeoff and land at airports. What should I do?

Seems to me YouTube has the means to stop kids under 13 from viewing general audience videos more so than any individual creator can know if a general audience video becomes popular with kids at some point in the future. There are no tools for creators to know what percentage of viewers of any given video are kids. YouTube has told us their own analytics cannot be used to determine the age of the viewer.

Thank you for the blog post. The problem is even if my content is for general audience (not only for children), I still have to choose in the YouTube section between "For Kids" and "Not for kids", which is reducing the possibility in choosing a general audience.
It would be great if YouTube would have a button for general audience to choose from as well, whenever I try to upload a new video.

Is it possible that we can let the parents decide for themselves? Since young kids are likely to be using their parent’s phone or their tablet to watch YouTube and if the parents do feel like they do not wish to let YouTube collect data and with a click of a button, they remove data collection. In this case, both the parent and the creator benefit. On the parental side, if their child chooses to watch media that is Not Made For Kids, the parent may cut out the data collection. On the creator side, they do not require to think too much about whether the content is made for kids as directions given are vague and need further clarification. This also lets the parents be responsible for the kid watching

So to make this perfectly clear, if a channel were to place the statement "All content on this channel is meant for a general audience." or "Parental supervision is recommended for the viewing of any and all content released on this channel." would be protected. Even though most if not all content creators do NOT collect data. Also punishing content creators for the actions of Youtube/Google or any other site is ridiculous. If they don't have the means or intention of collecting data from children under the age of 13 why should they be punished? It's the responsibility of the parents to make sure that their kids don't give out their information. Also many children and adults LIE about their age in order to access the kind of content that's not meant for them, how are you going to be able to stop that, hmmm?

why isn't there just an option for mixed audience ? the options of youtube are TOO vague to be honest

As for YouTube channels that focus on auto racing and other sports, how would those channels comply with the new regulations? For example my channel is such that. I focus (record) on auto racing, and other sports, as well as do vlogs. Though auto racing my be appropriate for some, others my find it not so appropriate due to crashes and language that may get picked up by the camera's microphone. Is there something I should focus on changing that would keep me in compliance. I have already hone through all my videos and changed them to not made for children in the YouTube editing feature.

You can see examples of channels the FTC considered to be directed to children in the complaint in the YouTube case.

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 will destroy Youtube! Its very confusing for me because I make videos related to kpop. Why are we held responsible for what children watch? It should be the parents who don’t monitor their kids! I’m scared of the fines because my family doesn’t have money. Guess i’ll be quitting Youtube.

My channel is set to mature audience ..how do i flag subscribers that i feel like they might be kids watching (made account without real birthdate) also if my channel is set on Mature i should be clear ? Meaning i should have to worry about getting fined ..i cannot control who comes to my channel especially if they lied about age when they created there you channel ..should youtube make a " confirm your age before watching my vid section ..yes they should

Is it ok to put on videos about wiccan things or creepy things maybe animals or people????

I feel like one of the main flaws of this is that there are some channels that are meant for kids only, some adults only, but then there's the what's between. What about the videos that can appeal to everyone? The ones that are neither intended for kids nor adults, but everyone? How do they fit with the rules?

I’m pretty sure my channel is for kids

I create audio roleplays for people on YouTube, and a massive amount of my viewers are either 18 or older. The only thing that I do that could possibly go against the rules of COPPA is that I use an animated character for my thumbnails. These animated characters however, are anime characters, which alot of adults watch, and which many times, is not for kids as it can have romantic/horror themes to them. I am fearful of being fined a crazy amount of money that I could never afford because of a thumbnail. Is there anything that I can do to not get flagged? Hopefully someone can shed some light on this for me, as I am about to privatize all of my videos and stop uploading entirely.
Also, would privatizing my videos so that I am the only person to see them be enough to not get flagged randomly, or is it safer to just delete everything? Thanks

Pages

Add new comment

Comment Policy

Privacy Act Statement

It is your choice whether to submit a comment. If you do, you must create a user name, or we will not post your comment. The Federal Trade Commission Act authorizes this information collection for purposes of managing online comments. Comments and user names are part of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) public records system (PDF), and user names also are part of the FTC’s computer user records system (PDF). We may routinely use these records as described in the FTC’s Privacy Act system notices. For more information on how the FTC handles information that we collect, please read our privacy policy.