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

I have a very small YouTube channel. And due to coppa my videos are being changed to "for children" by the YouTube algorithm, despite being a religious/philosophical channel with content to complex for young minds.
How do I go about protecting myself when YouTube is changing my settings every few hours?

I think that at this moment from all the detals is correct

So, Say if I were to create videos for a game like For Honor or Dark Souls III, would that consider my content directed towards children? If I mark my content as 'Not directed towards children.' would I be exempt from these rules? How can I make sure the content I created isn't considered Directed towards children?

My channel is not for children

My content is for child

THIS IS NEVER RESPECTFULL COPPA IS NOT EVEN HELPING AND ALL YOU DO IS IGNORE US PLS REMOVE IT IT RUIN YOUTUBE

Made for kids no

AS A YOU–TUBE CREATER I HAVE NEVER NEVER DREAMT OF MAKING ANY VIDEO FOR CHILDREN.NO NO.

my notification bell won't work, I've now fixed my settings and new subscribers still cannot hit my bell...how do I get this fixed?

Yes my Vidios for everyone....

My video is not for kids

What about toy reviews? Many of them are not directed to children yet the algorithm labels it as so. People who do reviews on Model Kits, Transformers and Anime Figurines are always marketed at children, however, the algorithm believes it is so because they are "toys". They are many grey areas in what is considered as Adult or Child content.
$42K is quite the hefty sum of money for a fine. Those who are fined are dealing with huge losses of money. It could be worse if the content creator's only income of money is Youtube?

I think that this Idea is good,just it is important that kids are learning something new like music or a new artists but that is only the way I think.

Sir, the video upload for genral entertainment and knowledge.

I absolutely agree. As a mom of 4 I monitor what my kids watch and what sites they go to. It is the parents responsibility to make sure their children aren't going on sites or channels they shouldnt be. Not to mention as you said many adults and teens still love dolls, collectables, games crafting, art etc.that can be seen as for kids. In my option I think this is just another way for those in power to try and pull the control of people finding alternative ways to generate income that leaves them out. Its ridiculous.

Like it.. Good luck

Is a Star Wars opening crawl kid-friendly?

Is there a way for parents and other concerned parties to report channels for review that violate these rules?

Why would you want to report someone? What harm are they causing? Do you even see the vagueness of this rule? Just about anything could be seen as directed for kids. Crafting, animation, vlogs, roblox, Minecraft, sims, SpongeBob, Disney, Lego, dolls, movies, etc. - All these things a child likes but so do adults. The FTC doesn't even know anymore they can't even suggest anything anymore. That tells a lot about a rule like this.

I signed up and my chanel is for kids
So every children in the world can check my channel

I sent you this message to tell you that my chanel is for kids and many other people can check it too because I am a not posting any kind of bad videos.

What about an option to switch off these features especially if an adult is the only watching his/her channel. Because of this I'm not able to give check on all notification option in my YouTube account. What about that ???

Please stop, none of us like this.

hellp my youtube bell icon on please.

Left wing sociall engineering ,blatant violation of the first amendment.

Hello YouTube sir what is this problem is solved

Is there any consideration for animation that is not kid friendly or will all animation be considered “made for kids” even with the animation that has very adult themes ? This seems like a very confusing and vague regulation that should be more up to the parents than an organization trying to make a regulation that is one size fits most, can there be some clarification or more detail added to alleviate the confusion and vagueness of the regulation ?

UPDATED COMMENT - FTC Please reply if you see this. I am lengthening my thought on this. So here it goes - There is too much grey area content for COPPA to have any use of protecting kids on youtube. Think about the things things adults like, but so do kids. Star Wars, Disney, Roblox, Lego, Minecraft, dolla, Pokemon, barbiem fortnite, movies, music, animation, drawing, instruments, sports, slime, vlogs, review videos, etc. This content doesn't have to be marked as kids, but by leaving them unmarked, kids will still watch and thus under your logic, still see manipulative targeted advertising. People like to make channels around their hobbies and for very good reason - to connect and chat with others. You can't do that without the user engagement. So you are only hurting those who have to mark. No one should have to lose their revenue and user engagement. How about focus on what COPPA truly means? - protecting kids from strangers, not advertisements. Kids can't whip out credit cards and buy things without a parents permission - so where is the manipulation you guys talk about? You are harming young creators on youtube, and this has to be given thought. And also the bottom line, you shouldn't be taking rights away from parents. If parents let their kids watch youtube, it is their choice. Not yours to make. You are hurting creators and we aren't even a month into this change.

I can't save my a sermon from my church due to the new change. I'm far from being a kid, and have kids who have kids ranging from age 23 to 3 yrs old. I'd like to be able to save my church videos, and I was once able to save them. I don't know what to look for on my PC to change it back so I can save them. I also still enjoy watching Looney Tunes too. So that is the big kid in me. Of course my grands love it that I showed them Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, etc. I got Boomerang for them, but still watch on my computer at times.

This is that l like to do

I make fan videos featuring videos with child actors and characters; however, often with these videos I tell stories that aren’t necessarily directed toward kids. They have more mature storytelling example; abandonment, anxiety, insecurities, etc. often the content I edit are from movies that are PG 13. If it features a child even if the story line is deep or enjoyed by everyone, do I still need to mark “made for kids”? Because some videos are hard to decifer.

Good news
I agreed to all mechanism that you’ve taken to change and protect children’s.

You've restricted people's channels from getting their notifications out when they have new content and these arevideos that are not targeted toward kids! Let's just call a thing a thing here: violation of the 1st amendment. Period! Parents need to take responsibility for what their child watches on YouTube or any social media site! You should be ashamed! This is simply UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

The FTC is not labeling content on the YouTube platform. 

No its not for children,my content is for lifestyle vlog and beauty

I personally don’t think saying ALL animated content is for children I’ve been working on an animated series that I was originally going to post on YouTube but now I have no idea where people can find my show and enjoy it. Soooo I think all of this is a little....a lot more extra than needed

While many animated shows are directed to children, the FTC recognizes there can be animated programming that appeals to everyone.

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