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

What do we do if our content for for people of all ages young and old?

I don't know how to let u know about ur questions. I make my family videos. They are for all my family n anyone who wants to watch them. I have grands great grands n they look at them. So what do I do????

Not showing my videos

Hi there my channel is educational for adults and older children not for little kids there can be swearing depending on the film I’m trying to be more aware of what I say sometimes I slip up myself and apologise for swearing. But I cannot stop someone else from cursing my content is about real life. So I’ll leave it up to you two make a decision on my behalf or please give me a reply . Yours sincerely husky community watchdog audit uk

I did not understand clearly... If I make content for all ages but mostly for kids, will I get fined? Just to say, I wanna make funny content for anybody to laugh. I know some people won't believe me but I don't wanna track or spy someone. (you can check my channel.) I was just wanting to be an average youtuber many years ago. Please don't be mad.

Hi. I'm very curious what to do with my Youtube channel because we just started our travel guide channel with our kids, traveling, playing, exploring and of course including tasting foods. Our content is not made for kids but still the point of tasting food is a kind of tricky. Can you give me an advice about that? Thank you

I have heard this new law will affect youtube. It should’ve have to! YouTube for kids was made for a reason, I feel this rule needs some edits or else the platform might be ended as a whole. If a video is labeled “Not for kids”, it shouldn’t have to result in stuff such as inability to research or large fines. I am sure there has to be some way to protect kids information without endangering millions of channels. Just try to make some edits to this rule that could appease the people without killing other channels.

Were do I go to say it’s not for children Or for them

What if someone does Sims 4 building videos? Are those under COPPA too?

What about cartoons that are inappropriate and show violence, sexual content, blood, gore, etc?

the vague outline of the rules are outrageous. it shouldn't be my responsibility to define my video when children under the age of 13 should NOT have a youtube account in the first place and when it is also NOT my responsibility but the parents to guard children on what is for children or not! youtube is throwing its creators under the bus for something we did not do.

a better solution, If coppa made youtube to let kids have Gmail accounts then kids would put their REAL age. Knowing that, Youtube will automatically turn off personalized ads for the kids they know are under 13, Thus they won't track kid's search history...

There is a YouTube for Kids for a reason. Make sure that the children use that instead of ruining our beloved content creators on YouTube!!!!

What if the video is unlisted and only sent to a few people? for example on a website?

Can you add another audience choice which is “ for all ages”

So as a small youtuber, i just want to cover all my bases. What about dating simulator games? If im readingg this right, as long as my stuff isnt directly directed to kids and im careful of the ads playing on it that should be fine? Also i have my youtuber sprite in my vids cause my webcam isnt working....is that gonna affect me?

I'm an animator. Does this mean simple animations are out of the question? Do I have to make only "adult cartoons"? Does this include portfolio pieces? How am I supposed to get work if I can't display my work because I'm scared of being fined? Isn't this affecting my freedom of expression? How am I even supposed to afford a fine if this prevents me from doing anything as an animator?

As a safe way to avoid this, everyone should mark every single video they upload 18+ , so that no children will see any video of theirs. Making youtube a wasteland for a kids account.

Problem with that is that YouTube could demonitize still.

Gaming channel with Kids game and Abusive language then in which type it would come Kids or Adult

I’m a YouTuber and I do it on my iPad but I don’t no how to comply with the coppa on my iPad.

Is there a way that YouTubers with kids content can have a little more freedom?

This is dumb, YouTube is a place for people to express their feelings, so what if it’s family friendly?

Why are content creators being punished for something Google did? Google's user analytics is the real problem. Its a repeat offense they have gotten in trouble for, tracking their users. And even so, these guidelines would put EVERY content creator in danger of a massive lawsuit that looks unpayable when you consider alot of youtube channels. 42K per violation is WAY OUT there.

hey im a little creator and im wondering what if its a gun game like call of duty fortnite and stuff like that or gaming in genral

what happends if i choose adults but its actually for kids?

This video is not intent for children

What if I make a video of stacking firewood and my 5 year old boy helps stack the wood? Is he considered a 'child actor'?

Dear sir madam my purpose for my chanel only for tourisim not unlike videos i uploading just for information about traveling im not usa citizen but i can i speak english very wel i undersatand best of luck safe and share my videos thank you

What about animators,they wint be affected?I didnt understood whe i read

What about bus and train videos on Youtube? I typically upload these types of videos on my channel. Is it considered "Made for Kids" or "Not Made for Kids"? If, you're reading this, please help me.

You don't decide what's for kids and what isn't. That's not how this should work.

I never make this video for kids

what about brickfilms/ stop motion animations? i make those i need to know if they are "made for kids" or not.

what if the owner of the channel is under the age of 13 but doesn't direct content towards kids and their channel content isn't for kids?

i dont understand why a kid under the age of 13 cant create a channel, not all kids are immature and like toys and gaming, i think they should be able to post content

does family vloggers considered not made for kids? yes? or no?

Dear FDA

My channel is new and based on glass bottle paintings. I am a homemaker and mother too.
I can't go out to work so decided to work and earn through my passion for art. I got YouTube as platform to earn while raising my kids.
But when I got to know about this new rule COPPA I am confused whether my bottle painting (which I do on alcohol bottles and jars) comes under MADE for KIDS or not.

Because bottle glass painting is something which adult also enjoy.

Please, go through my request and requesting you to elaborate the rule serails

so youtube has made a statement recently, on a video in an attempt to answer some top questions about the situation. "Mixed audience content, on the other hand, is considered a type of made for kids content." how accurate is this statement in relation to COPPA?

Hi I'm a new YouTuber I'm using my phone to make and upload my cooking vedio ,This are not for kids, but I can't find options in my phone settings to select the option plz help me to resolve it. Thank you

I'm an aspiring artist who was making timelapse drawing videos on YouTube in a cartoon style, though my intended audience was teens and adults. A lot of my work was bloody or contained adult humor, though not all of it - and the less crude art is what I've been worried about. The characters I draw are still aimed towards an older audience, but children might come across that art and decide to check it out, which I have no control over. Because the guidelines are so vague, I didn't know how to mark my channel or any of my videos and decided to just delete everything. Now, I'm too scared to make a new channel purely because I'm a practicing cartoonist whose content is intended for an older audience, though some of what I do may be considered to be generalized for all ages - an option that YouTube doesn't have, as far as I'm aware. And what I've gathered from the guidelines is that cartoons = child content and I have no idea how the grey area is going to be addressed. Would adding a disclaimer before every video saying that what I make is not intended for children be enough? Or would I still get in trouble? I would like to create a new art channel, but I do not want a channel that's forced to be "made for children." My intended audience has and always will be teens and adults.

What if we have content that involves toys/video games/characters etc that appeal to children but the content itself is made for adults? Or there is curing in the video? Ex: someone playing a Mario or spyro game on their gaming channel. The games are rated for everyone, but what if the channel owner didn’t make the video for children but actually intended it to be for people in their 20s even though the video is family friendly? Or if the channel owner played the pie face game which is a kids toy, but they used it for some kind of internet challenge and even though the challenge could be done by kids, the content itself was again made for a higher age group? Would those need to be marked as “for children”? And if so, would adding at least one curse word per video change that from “for children” to “not for children”

Is your content directed to children?  If 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.

The blog post says your content isn’t considered “directed to children” just because some children may see it. Read the blog, and read and pages 10 -14 of the complaint in the YouTube case to see examples of channels the FTC considered to be directed to children.

It’s for my kids and for different things more

Thank you for ruining the internet.

Is there a problem with my YouTube homepage?

Yes

Are FTC since time to take a break YouTube I am just trying to warn you don't take my YouTube or else I'm going to go shut downI'm whatever affects YouTube I want to fight you cuz whatever tried to take over to you immediately cuz I'm just warning you don't cuss, might come back

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