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

Did you know that YouTube is Shutting Down? Nope, YouTube is not Shutting Down in 2020.

This COPPA, FTC and YouTube, Please Don’t Closing Down all their Channels on YouTube or else, I’ll get Terminated from Using our Bad Words, Sexual Harassment, Bullying, Cussing, Beat Up, Language is Bad, Killing Friends and Family, etc... That video is good. Thanks for writing down their comment about FTC.

Good Luck!

Hello. I plan on posting content about the HBO show Game Of Thrones and I wanted to know if that is considered as kid friendly or not.

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.

someone said that creators under 18 will not be able to upload anymore next year, is that true?

If a channel is uploading videos on games that a lot if kids play (ex: ROBLOX and Minecraft), but their intended auidence isn't aimed for kids under 13, will they automatically be under COPPA? Teens and Adults enjoy those types of games as well.

I believe there needs to be more of a discipline from YouTube itself on their end they need more people hired to help delete videos or channels that make inappropriate videos. Do not immediately judge a person's channel just by their titles or their thumbnails this rule will negatively impact and effect millions of peoples lives which I believe will drastically change internet future and forever. The fines will hopefully stop the inappropriate videos or channels but the fines could also stop or prevent the next amazingly talented artist from showing off their work. The fear of fines could prevent the next big scientist (like bill nye the science guy who started out doing science for both kids and adults) from creating and possibly even solving some of the Earth's biggest issues. Don't go through with this rule I understand the need to protect the future children but this is not the way this will drastically change internet forever and not in the "world peace" way I believe you are hoping it will become. Don't do this

Thank you for your time
Sarah rais

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!

This is a moderated blog. Staff review every comment before it is posted. Many commenters are asking for examples of channels the FTC considers to be directed to children, so we're giving you information directly from the blog and from the Complaint.

Why are content creators being targeted when they have no say what type of adverts appear on their uploads, nor can they collect information or place “persistent identifiers”? The advertisers do this, YouTube allows it; that’s who are who should be responsible when this happens as a content owner is unaware of what adverts are put on their videos.

Hello. I'd like to ask: Will this apply to gaming channels/ videos? FOR EXAMPLE: I uploaded a video of me playing Minecraft. And that video does have bad words and images that children shouldn't be looking at. Will that video be fined or judged? Will i have to say "Not for kids" or "For kids" in the title of the video or in the thumbnail? If your read this, thank you!

The Gacha Community is a part animation part dress up game. However, this rule should not apply to us as we also use gore in our videos, not just cutesy dress etc.

Okay, so, I am a *very* small GachaTuber, and my family doesn't have much money. Heck, my Mom has to work three jobs! If I continue making Gacha videos, will I get sued? Does gacha count as an "Online dress-up game"? I would like to know.

What if the animation isn’t for kids?

So you are going to make YouTube demonetize a channel like Bratayley, J House Vlogs, tannerites, kittiesmama, all because it may be “child-directed”. How is that fair to them. You are taking away people’s income. Their livelihoods. And I can tell you for one, your law wouldn’t hold up in court. Any judge with common sense would scrap it. Channels are not websites. They can’t control who signs up. Whereas if I own a website I can control who signs up. I can ask for parental permission. A YouTube channel cannot do this, so it does not fall under the definition of a website. And taking away content creators comments, end screens, notifications, playlists, likes - your stripping all forms of engagement with your users. How is that fair? This is like suing Instagram users for posting pictures of their children and saying “hey, children may sign up to follow that account” and then proceeding to disable their likes, comments, and notifications.

Why aren't kids using youtube kids?

Many just use there parent phones, iPads ect

I would highly appreciate it that if the law does take effect that COPPA adds a general(for everyone) option on the video information.

I honestly don't think this labeling is warranted because it's the job of the parents or parent to raise their kid and keep them from seeing questionable content, not the government's.

In my opinion unless there is malicious intent like finding out where they live to go there or asking for personal information, it's not a crime to gather data of what they like from previous searches, likes, comments, or views.

Please really reconsider

I strongly agree with your second paragraph, especially considering that parents choose to allow their children to create accounts on YouTube. Many parents purchase tablets for their children to watch streaming video like YouTube. The fact that YouTube does not allow the creation of accounts for individuals under 13, but parents do so for children under 13 anyway, would seem to constitute consent on the part of the parent.

A much better approach on the part of Google would be to allow parents to create sub-accounts for children that give the parents the ability to choose if any content by the sub account is tracked or not. YouTube already allows adults to opt out of targeted advertising, for example, so it wouldn't be a stretch. If a parent decides to allow tracking, maybe it could be like how Google allows users to review their Google search queries. A parent could then see everything that the child watched or commented and be afforded the ability to block a channel if they so choose. It would be very easy for Google to put tools in the hands of parents to allow them to be responsible for the care of their children rather than put the responsibility on content creators which is only going to result in less content that is suitable for children.

There's nothing wrong with, for example, having an advertisement directed at children in general. Television has done this literally all of my life. When I watch a cartoon on television I see advertisements directed at children. As long as the child isn't being tracked through those advertisements there isn't a problem here so then YouTube would be able to continue to sell child-directed ads if they did this, and if they implemented a age rating system then maybe even content that is directed at adults could be more mature than is currently allowed. There are lots of ways that this problem could be addressed without creating this mess of a situation. It all comes down to giving parents the ability to parent their children and not hold anyone else responsible for that.

I also worry about the labeling, because I make my videos for everyone, I post them for people to laugh, if it's a bit questionable I'll put a warning in the title or description

I am a child friendly youtuber but I don’t know how to say they’re safe for kids

I don't understand how it is the content creators fault for children watching videos that aren't child-friendly. Parents need to keep an eye on what their kids watch since I, and many others, think that parents should be blamed rather than the content creators. If their kids watch a video on a game like Outlast, Five Nights at Freddy's or other horror/gory games, then it's the parents fault for letting their kids watch these types of videos.

If you do find this comment, please take a step back and really think WHO is responsible for kids watching non-kid friendly content. This can affect many lives and jobs.

I feel really confused about this rule and how it affects my content. I do Five Nights at Freddy's fan games. The characters (mostly) are meant to look kid-friendly since they're animatronic characters at a kids restaurant (I say mostly since some robots/characters are actually meant to look scary). These games evolve around these lovable characters, who are haunted by the souls of dead children, hunting down a night guard and attacking them and stuffing them into an animatronic suit which has parts inside that WILL kill the night guard instantly. Some FNaF fan games also contain well-known characters like Thomas the Tank Engine, Mac Tonight, Jollibee and Chuck E. Cheese. However, the main law is hidden in secrets in the game and some videos on my channel don't even have jumpscares in them.

So, what do I do? I'm lost. I'm tempted to just private every single video on my channel. This isn't an action I want to do, I love my channel and like making content, but it seems like it is the only thing to do in order to be safe. It is the parents fault, not ours. Don't blame us for parents not keeping an eye on the content their kids watch, It seems like we are getting unnecessary blame. Please reconsider your choices - it can change YouTube as we know it forever.

So I am very confused by this, but I would like to ask about the gaming part. Say that my channel is 100% not directed towards children at all, but I do post cartoons and gaming videos. Though cartoons and gaming are things children do watch on YouTube could I still be ruined for just posting a cartoon or gaming video even If I state at the beginning of all my videos THIS IS NOT FOR CHILDREN?

This is a major concern to YouTube Creators. This blog is akin to saying you mustn't speed but not stating what is the speed limit.
I do speed painting/drawing on YouTube showing for example an 8 hour drawing reduced to 20 minutes. Naturally these are going to be of animals, landscapes and comic/cartoon subjects. For children you might say but no they are for the whole family to hopefully enjoy. I'm an artist and film-maker and you have worried the whole of this community as we use color, music and content that is interesting to all ages.
Many artists are going to have to leave YouTube purely because the FTC have used insensitive language as 'shooting fish in a barrel' re fines as we could not afford these.
Most YouTubers are small to medium and we do not collect data on who watches the content we provide or as in my case we receive no data from YouTube at all.
How can you fine creators who are outside the US as you do not have legal authority in every country in the world?
Please enforce on YouTube the option for a 'Family Friendly' category to stop this madness as a matter of urgency.

What Is With Minecraft Is It For Adults Or Childs

This is wrong, you shouldn't punish content creators just because a kid chooses to break the rules, or a parent can't control what their children do online. It isn't the youtuber's job to be a parent or monitor their content for the millions of possible viewers.

Whenever The FTC and Coppa Fine a content creator That $42K on youtube They pretty much expect The person they are fining to have that in pocket change and they are probably Putting another Human to live on the streets

I believe that the issue falls with the parents, not necessarily the creators. So if you curse in something that is considered to be "child friendly", where would that fall under? So please bear this in mind as you comb through channels.

Hello, if your channel has the word suicide mentioned in EVERY video would it still be for kids or for adults? You should make a list of wordsyou can put if the video is for kids or not.

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.

If it's YouTube and Google who are collecting the information and passing it on to advertisers, how can the content creators...who are NOT the ones collecting the information, or giving it to advertisers...be held liable. It seems that this is making content creation the crime, while the actual violators (YouTube and Google), have been able to make a deal that lets them off the hook...even if they continue to collect and distribute the information.

The Six-Step Compliance Plan for Your Business says you must comply with COPPA if:

Your website or online service is directed to children under 13 and you collect personal information from them.

OR

Your website or online service is directed to children under 13 and you let others collect personal information from them.

OR

Your website or online service is directed to a general audience, but you have actual knowledge that you collect personal information from children under 13.

OR

Your company runs an ad network or plug-in, for example, and you have actual knowledge that you collect personal information from users of a website or service directed to children under 13.

What about channels that are clearly geared for adults, such as farming or home improvement, but cute little goats or even one of their children riding a horse arrests in the video? My grandkids love the goats and horses so does their appearance or the assistance of my grandchildren make my b video "child appealing?" Or my 12 year old granddaughter doing cricket with her Grandma? I fear a lot of babies are going to be thrown out with the bathwater unless this is reworked.

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