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

Don't you think that the people making these laws should probably know something about the internet? I mean, I watch "cartoons" that are NOT meant for children at all and if they're getting hit with 42,000 dollar fines then... That's not right...

The only thing is, some small channels don't have all this money! Are you suggesting they quit to save themselves the headache?

If my channel covers video games and covers some E rated, mostly T rated and some M rated stuff. How does the FTC look at that type of channel? Is it for kids or not for kids? Also do youtube analytics help with proving whether or not my channel targets kids? i would very much like an answer as I am in great need of this information.

I went to be make video for education related. That's maths for ncert high school

I always make the best possible videos for kids

This is ridiculous and will ruin the lives of too many

What if a child of the age of, let's say 9, watched a youtube video that is monetized (i.e video game channels) and the child's information is still anonymously taken to direct ads to said child and this child put his/her private info in unknowingly, what would you do about that?

What happened my problem solved

I have a small channel that is not monetised. If I mismark, do I risk a fine?

This is an outrage! Don't ruin peoples careers!

Yes it is made for kids

Dear FTC I do kinda like the rules but I do war animations and it looks like it is for kids but I’m not fully sure and I have another called bloxburg 10 incident I say it’s in between my channels name is what am I doing with my life studios mapping and I would really like a reply please

What if youOnly have a few videos and they’re set to private?

Us creators physically cannot control who watches our videos, yes we can push it towards certain audiences, but we can't stop a kid in a different country from watching a video they are not supposed to. That is the parents fault, not our fault. I upload minecraft videos, I do not include anything that is specifically for kids, but I also do not make adult only content. Most of us creators fall into a gray area. Would minecraft be considered kid content, even though it is a game that is enjoyed greatly by all ages? This is ruining lives, youtubers will lose their entire life over this. Fix your rules with youtube. Heck, try watching some youtube videos for once. You will see that most channels are not directly sent to kids, but are also not for adults. Youtube algorithms cannot detect these kinds of things on their own. Heck standing outside on a nice day could be considered "Bright and appealing colors to children" by an AI. Rant over. Fix your rules.

How do u make the channel a kid friendly channel it taking me to all different information centres and not lettering me jut agree

please tell more about ,, age of models,, we are making horror movie with kids actors :/

I understand that this law is stop children under 13 from having their information collected and what not and it's a good thing, but I really think the entire law does not really take into consideration of the creator who is creating the content. It is more of YouTube basically saying well we don't want to shell out any more money because we did not comply to the COPPA Law before and if we don't comply we will still be hit and we will lose our revenue. Well then it's the responsibility of the content creator to 'properly" mark their video if it's suitable for children or adult, otherwise they run the risk of being fined and having their YouTube Channel shutdown, which if the video is not marked correctly. Really nice scapegoat on YouTube's end. Why if then were the creators were not taken into consideration during this settlement and revised law? The focus was on the children of course for the purpose of the law, but how can hold the creator responsible if it's Youtube's platform not a private website that is owned by an individual. Shouldn't Youtube be responsible for what their site contains just as they do with any other TOS that they require? You expect to really believe that Youtube is going to comply properly with the law? All they care about is their revenue. If it's the FTC's job to see that the organization is complying with the law, shouldn't more be reviewed in regards to how Youtube is implementing a change in order to comply? Didn't anyone from the FTC take into consideration that their are some content to appeases to children as it does to adults as well? For example baking, if I do baking, which the majority of viewers are adult, but their are kids who love to bake as well. What if I did a cake of a Nintendo character and some kid under 13 see it and watches it? I mark it for adults and then its discovered that it's also considered a video for children as well determined by Youtube or the FTC I should be responsible because I marked it wrong, not realizing a kid is going to click on the video to make this cake?

I think there should be an option for a mixed audience or a 3rd option to say this video includes content for both adult and children. I think that's fair. This revised law was pushed out too fast for a short time to give notice to content creators and is gives an uncertainty what is going on. Their are people who their primary and only job is YouTube; its their livelihood, You force YouTube to comply with this law force them to implement another option/way to mark their videos correctly with about having to have anxiety if they do it wrong. Many content creators who have big channels who have over 100k subscribers are weighing in the balance to know how this is going to affect their channels and many are considering leaving Youtube all together. So if YouTube is so worried about losing revenue, channels like those for example who pull in so much revenue they will lose on them. How will anyone benefit from that? This needs to be revisited and two options is definitely not enough when you have content that may spark interest to children as well as the given example above. Another thing, what will stop a child under 13 from making an account that they lie and say they are over 13, how is that going to protect a child from children ads. The main point with this is, parents need to start monitoring their own children's viewing instead of a content creator being responsible for it, or better yet YouTube really satisfying their greed and helping the creator so they are not penalized for their negligence.

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.

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