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

FTC better thinks, that each countries have different laws regarding children’s privacy. Are FTC try To forcing Other countries to agree With COPPA?? Even Other Countries ( like Japan, Australia, Indonesia, India, etc.) already having better solutions for those problems???

Foreign-based websites and online services must comply with COPPA if they are directed to children in the United States, or if they knowingly collect personal information from children in the U.S.

The law’s definition of “operator” includes foreign-based websites and online services that are involved in commerce in the United States or its territories. As a related matter, U.S.-based sites and services that collect information from foreign children also are subject to COPPA. See COPPA FAQS B.7. https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/complying-coppa-frequently-asked-questions

What happened if a channel is not for kids?

what if youtubers like me with under 100 subs? Will they get fined too?

I just wanna know, if your videos aren't directed towards kids but still child friendly, what do you mark it as, for kids or not for kids

What about if u make roblox videos is that consider childerns

The FTC cannot approve particular websites or online services or provide an opinion on whether a specific site or service is directed to children.

My content appeals to a broad audience, but targets mainly an adult audience. As a content creator I have no control over who sees my videos. Youtube often makes errors in content detection, and while they have a right to police their content in the scope of their platform any way they see fit, this ruling has ramifications with real world consequences, consequences that can destroy lives and families. In addition, the vagueness of these terms make such laws nearly impossible for the layperson to follow. While this is acceptable for a private platform, it is totally unacceptable for any government body in the free world, the FTC included, who's purpose is to protect America's consumers from a corporations actions, not punish the little guy over something they had no control over.
For all those in the US reading: If you are fined but made a good faith effort to classify your content correctly, but for whatever reason youtube or the ftc incorrectly flagged your video as otherwise, please dispute it in a court of law or any other way fit. Reason shall prevail.

What about Gacha life?

Drear. FTC if you start Scaring Youtube Creators away YouTube Will lose money as company And Youtube Doesn't Want to lose Money. For older Fans Dbz, Pokemon, And Mario Older Fans Like Those type Shows / Anime. Dragon Ball Z is not target to kids is more for an Older Fan Base People who Play the mario games Are Mostly Adults Who grew up with The Nintendo Entertainment System Talk about the Games.

Is COPPA going to make YouTube delete music such as tracks that channels have uploaded such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Dean Martin songs and gaming content such as GTA 5 or La Noire because I want content like that to stay up there till the end of time. People are worried about if YouTube is going to die in 2020 where YouTube would be shut down and out of business. Is that going to happen because people would not like for that to happen at all? I wonder if they are answers to what I am mentioning here.

what if im a lets say 16 year old do i get a fine if my content is not for kids

yes kids can watch my youtube channel it is for everyone to see

It's a Joke !! Nothing has changed on January 1st. YouTube channel owners are llaughing

I have a old account, and i forgot the gmail but i know the name of the channel. I used to upload but now i cant access it and mark the videos, what will i do now?

Consider contacting YouTube to have your password reset.

Youtube: YouTube Isn't for kids!

Also YouTube: We will turn YouTube into YouTube Kids!

Has it been in effect yet

Does that mean I can be fined because Google guides children to my video and then illegally collects their private information? No matter that I have no influence on this traffic at all and I do not collect any child's data? In other words, I will be feed for Google's illegal actions?

Would my channel be considered for kids if my channel is very pro lgbt community and consists of lots of lgbt content?

How do i create it so I can post like confirm its child proof

If I become a youtuber than I would not show any thang bad

What if someone in the FTC thinks that the video is intended for children without knowing the real content of it? Oh and America is not the only place where people watch You Tube! It'll make everything just weirder and more complicated!

The FTC is not labeling content on the YouTube platform.

It for marketing only

Thank you all bro

How about bento box lunches,or just regular school lunches ideas kinda video? Cute but targeting adults,because children will never be able to do them,but still appealing to them because cute..

lemme tell you a joke
youtube kids

What about family friendly??

So cartoons is not dead right?

How am I supposed to verify it

I don’t know how to save it can you do a tutorial

I will obey the rules that have been made (FTC)

You cant do this it is full of holes and it violates the 8th amendment of the Constitution. And this is all Google's fault. After all. They were the ones collecting the data in the first place!

Will channels that aren’t monetized be sued for kid-friendly content?

hi how do i say its for kids or not

I think what should be focused on is the protection of children, first and foremost. Secondary to this would be clarification of the regulations to do just that. No, it's not the content creators' responsibility, nor should it be their punishment, that those recognized as children would potentially watch videos that are not "marked for children". I think a system should be created and enforced that places the responsibility and consequences back on the parents. (maybe something along the lines of being able to trace IP addresses back to internet accounts, or something to that effect.) I also believe that a separate system within video supporting platforms that allows the options of uploading videos to either "target specific ads" sites and "non-target specific ads" sites.

What about toy reviews not targeted toward children? Nothing to especially appeal to kids, but the video is about a toy, such as an animal figurine? A video to show the figurine's merits, shortcomings, and how realistic it is? Many teens and adults do select such figurines. What about a video about customizing said figurine; again nothing kid-directed, but still about customizing a toy? Many adults and teens customize model horses, for example, as well. What is the difference between a video made for an 11 or 12 year old, and one made for a 13 year old? Is there any way to change a video to make it less kid-directed, without swearing or similar activities? Would saying at the beginning of the video that it is not intended for children help if it's one of the boarderline videos? What are "characters, activities, games, toys, songs, stories, or other elements that are particularly appealing to children?" Can we please get a long list of examples to get a better feel for it? Could the FTC give examples of how it would categorize less obvious videos, other than nursery rhymes and such? It isn't fair to creators to give them such vague instructions, and then give them a choice between destroying their channel or risking a huge fine.

Targeted ads for children seems pretty harmless to me, since they dont actually have an income, so any purchases done based on the ads, are being funded by the parents. The same parents who allowed their children to use the normal Youtube... So this is like parents stabbing themselves, but the knife company being held responsible.

i just want to my channel safe,,,how to do,,,i don’tkno,,, please do something

h coppa needs to be rewritten, youtube kids exists, i dont want to be a box for any longer and i want my vibrant colors back

I don't want the kids mode

Neither do I. Bc some of my favorite youtubers are now covered by this and I browse while watching their videos. YT calms me down when I'm crying but now bc of kids mode I cant browse while watching, and it's gonna take longer for me to calm down bc of it

My video not for kids

When is the coppa law happening? I know it's this month in January, but when in January?

If you add its not suitable for kids , do you still have to put it in the thumbnail or at the start? Because im still not sure on what to do if i go on youtube studio and make it not suitable for kids. Will i get sued for not making it in the thumbnail or can 13 and unders not be able to get on my videos??

Kids can watch it too

Can you still make money off of YouTube if you designate your videos to kids?

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