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

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?

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

I didn't ask this in my previous comment, but if we as creators do happen to get "flagged" because someone thinks that our videos are for children, do we immediately get fined an enormous amount of money, or are we warned about a video beforehand? In my last comment, I expressed my concerns about my own channel and that its only problem was the use of an anime character in the thumbnails of my videos.

This is going to kill youtube

So I'm all for following the law but the rules for COPPA has to be updated before it can even apply to YouTube. YouTube has made the error of word choice and they cannot be heavily pressed to put rules that would hurt more than just the youtuber. As they pointed out they also have youtube kids which is its a whole different thing. Also most children have done something that is above the age range. Like for instance the Grand Theft Auto series or Mortal Combat a lot of children will say that they have played it. All they needed was there parents VERBAL permission. In similar fashion a lot of people like playing some games that could be considered children's games. The fine for the law is also absurd for a fine of up to $42,000 per violation. People make more than 200+ videos that you would deem a violation by a simple glance. Even with consideration that is still more than some people make a video. A lot of things have to be done to make sure that this is not just a cash grab to ruin people. I have a lot more on my mind but this is just what I can put into words. Also educate the people who have the final say in these rules. If they don't use it how can they make a rule on it. They need their own opinions on the subject along with a few others to make a clear decision.

I appreciate the further explanation of the Rule but it is still too vague. It needs to be refined even further and must include what to avoid. A fine this serious will send content creators and unaware uploaders bankrupt. I myself am an extremely small channel and I only upload for fun but I fear that these changes will hurt me and millions of other people. Parents/carers should be responsible for what their child sees on the internet. YouTubers are not the ones bringing their children up and should not be punished for what is not their fault. Please consider applying COPPA to YouTube Kids - platform intended for children under 13 - and leaving the 'main' YouTube exclusively for people above the age of 13. Just because a video is child-friendly doesn't mean it is targeted towards children.

I understand that children must be protected but not in this way; at the expense of people trying to earn money by working hard every single day.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope my comment makes a difference.

-a concerned and hopeful content creator

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.

While the YouTube kids thing IS a good idea, it also isn't. Some YouTubers that people like to watch wouldn't appear there.

Will people get paid in add revenu if their content is directed to kids?
Also please make your polocys less vauge

I feel I might be in a grey area. I make a daily vlog which does show the kids occasionally playing. Or crafting. Family life. But according to youtube stats my audience is over 25s and mainly over 45s. I never get comments from children on my comments section.asside from what the kids do I am filming my walks, housework, chatting, daily activities, cooking. I worry that the children sections might come under COPPA rule. Despite my videos being made for adults. Your thoughts on this would be appreciated please.

I don’t not agree to this at all I think YouTube should be for kids and everyone

What if content is for both adults and children? What then? is it either kids or adults?

What if you upload games like ROBLOX but your intended audience ISN'T for kids under 13 years old? Teens and adults enjoy those games too, what happens to that content?

Please cancel this event and leave YouTube alone and normal! No more changes to it! We don’t want to be doomed forever! YouTube really wants to be here on the Internet forever and ever. We need freedom and remove those new rules and guidelines once and for all and don’t even let this ever happen again!

Does this law mean that ALL animatiors on Youtube are now under "Youtube Kids" rule? Cause that seems like a really big problem and will put a lot of people out of a job

As A Viewer, I Know That These Rules Will Greatly Affect Youtubers That Specialize In Animation, Art, Crafts, Gaming, And Family Vlogging. Though Others Might Specialize On Other Things, It Will Not Only Make Youtubers Flee Their Channel But It Will Affect Youtube As Well. Just Because A Person For Example, Talks About A Character In A PG Rated Movie Does Not Mean That Their Video Or Channel Is Kid Directed. Back To The Main Subject, Youtube Has Been Getting Away With Their So Called "Kids Channels" That Show Characters Participating In Sexual, Violent, Or Vile Activities. These Are The Channels That You Need To Focus On, Not Content Creators That Only Make Videos For Fun. You Should Also Address Bots Being Used To Figure Out If A Content Creators Video Is For Kids Or Not Because They Can Mistake A Video For Being Kid Friendly Or Not, Which Can Get A Content Creator Fined If Their Video Is Not Kid Friendly.

Is gaming for kids or not

Well, I’m sort of confused. If your content is meant for kids but has some swear words in it..would it be counted as Kid-Friendly?? I mean, some creators have that problem. Is it included in there? I quickly skimmed the article.

I have been wondering this since nobody has brought it up but are edit channels (like anime music video editors) effected by Coppa or is the music they use signal enough for if it's for kids or not?

This new rule would be detrimental to content creators on Youtube, as most are in violation of these vague guidelines set by the FTC. While there are those who clearly market towards children and those who clearly market towards adults, most videos and content creators fall into a grey area without a definitive target demographic. Because of this nuance, please remember that there are ample sites and sources for children's content (such as Youtube kids) that does not have the potential to harm content creators on Youtube proper.

We need an in between option my channel has kid appearing in it but is not always directed at kids
i use animation but not directed at kids
and what about game play that doesn't have age restrictions?

I want to save YouTube and family-friendly content on youtube so I can use it for watching videos on youtube

Thank you for clearing up that "just because your video has bright colors or animated characters doesn’t mean you’re automatically covered by COPPA" in your recent blog post. But what about family videos such as family vlogs? Our videos have some scenes of our three year old daughter. So can you confirm if this would be covered by COPPA? She is not a child actor/model effectively presenting the video, but appearing as part of our family vlog. We feel a comment on mixed audience, family content would help a lot of content creators. Thank You.

Though I am happy numerous measures are being taken to keep kids safe online I feel like it could be done differently. The way this law was put together punishes creators and won't necessarily help the kids in the long run. A parent is the only person who can make a good change by monitoring their kids. Am a parent of a young child myself, I always monitor what she does online manually and by using apps that help with safeguarding. I also set rules for her and regularly explain why it's important to follow those rules. I would like to ask the FTC to have a second look at the law and make a few amendments that don't put the creators in such a difficult position. They work so hard on their content some earn a living from this and unfortunately this would affect their livelihood.

I have an old account in which i uploaded a video video but i haven't access to it because i forgot credentials. the recover tool doesn't help. What could i do ti adjust the channel?

What will be the consequences for those YouTube creators who are having Subscribers Below 100 And Didn't reached the monetization criteria i.e., Disabled Monetization. The Question is do they have to pay a sum amount of $42,530 for COPPA violation.

Note: The question asked for only those considered above.

Waiting for a reply from your community with a correct answer. Regards

The rules and regulations need to be more specific. The "subject matter" especially can be interpreted many different ways. If a set of employees from the FTC are going to check each and every video on Youtube (which, by the way, would be almost impossible to do), different employees might flag videos on the exact same "subject matter" differently because the law is so vague and up to personal interpretation. There needs to be much more specific rules and regulations to follow.

Also, there should definitely be a little bit more gray area. There are many channels that are not targeting kids, but they aren't necessarily mature because of the demonetization of mature language and violence that Youtube has been implementing for the past few years. Many channels make content available for mass audiences. This means that while it is "kid friendly," it's not necessarily child-directed. A lot of the content that I watch is very analytical of specific "subject matters" that could be seen as for kids. However, if you actually watched some of the videos, while there is no vulgar language of any kind (making it "kid friendly"), the vocabulary and topics covered (upper level science, mathematics, logic) to validate points used shows that it is meant for more mature audiences (not child-directed). There needs to be very specific policies distinguishing the difference between being "kid friendly" and child-directed.

It's very clear that you're trying to offer guidance and not take down channels that are "kid friendly." I mean, the paragraph before the regulations states that,

"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 guidance is just too vague for anyone to really know if what they are doing is actually what you would consider to be targeted towards kids or not. There needs to be much more specific regulations. A longer list of regulations that can constantly be adapted to tackle those who would try to find loopholes would be greatly appreciated.

There are an estimated 42,000 channels that use Youtube as their main source of income. Over the last decade, many of these channels have had to adapt their content to keep the ad revenue and paychecks coming through (especially over the past couple of years with changes to Youtube demonetization, algorithms and copyright laws) to put food on the table. A large majority of these channels would agree that collecting information on underage children is very wrong. If you just give them some specific regulations to follow that are not up to interpretation and easily understandable, they will happily comply.

I personally agree that the COPPA rule should be revised and/or be taken down. The rules are not explicit enough to know what to and not to put in the videos. YouTube Kids was originally made to avoid these types of issues and that app needs to be taken into consideration. Content Creators should not be liable for what viewers under 13 watch. It is the job of a parent to control what their kids watch. I get there is many complaints of these parents and COPPA needs to be more explanatory so that those who basically live their lives through YouTube don't have to be the ones paying the price of a violation that parents in general should be controlling, the definition of a "Responsible Parent".

There are many content creators directed toward children, some are big, others are small. A 42 thousand dollar fine probably wouldn't effect a big content creator very much, but a smaller one, would have a lot of trouble. Many children watch YouTube and do other things that COPPA may effect, and changing those platforms so much, could change their lives in a negative way.

I want to protect YouTube and save family-friendly content on youtube

this is honestly really stupid ;{

I want to be a gaming YouTuber someday, but will COPPA affect me? I could easily put a disclaimer at the beginning of my videos, but will I have to do something that kids shouldn't see or hear? I can't bring myself to say bad words (no, really, I'm physically incapable of swearing). I want to make content for teens and young adults, but I want kids to be able to watch it, too.

Some of these People live for this it’s the only thing they have and you shouldn’t have to make them pay a fine per violation yes there is a lot of inappropriate content on there but making YouTube and google have to pay $42,530 it’s ridiculous

Hey, wait a minute! The FTC staff is just saying the exact same thing in all their replies to comments! They're not reading them at all!

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