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

You realize i can't add a song to a very important playlist i have (one that features songs that express my deepest feelings) just because the song is marked as "for kids"? Judging something so blindly like that is nonsense: art is art no matter WHO it's directed at and i honestly find such judgements to be a personal insult to many of the things i enjoy that just HAPPEN to be something kids might enjoy as well. Whoever wrote this law is too out of touch to be making calls like this and should unlist the input of people that understand that "for kids" does not mean it's FOR kids. Until then,this is just a bad law that protects no one (you don't think kids can lie about their age online? Please),puts unneeded restrictions on people that have nothing to do with it and just shows how out of touch it's creator's are with how pop culture works these days. Anyway,i doubt this will even get read but it needed to be said so i said it.

Someone help me please am confused about this whole stuff I can’t find the comments under my video and I hear it’s something about YouTube.i really don’t get it please how can I restore my comments??

Please stop. This is awful.

we wasnt listened too

Thanks you

Why 42k thats unreasonable

I’m not a child but I still have this on how can I turn this feature off?

Why not comments are possible in my videos

How fix my channel for kids

I get it but i why is the miniplayer banned or u cant use it? Im pretty sure it doesn't harm any kids.

im 18 years old

I am uncomfortable with there its children content, and I want to ask the YouTube party so that I can choose my content for children or adults, and I want to fix it all, with children's content does not have his like, and comments. and thank you

It is made for kids

With the content made for children, the notification bell is locked to "none". This can be a problem as the community of YOUTUBE will not get notified when some of the people they are subscribed to post. Please try to fix this ASAP.

What about a parody of a famous film or play like a kids show that parodies “Waiting for Godot”?

I hat that content creators cannot customize the channel to make it so only certain things apply like notifications on but comments off.

I am thinking about starting a new channel on YouTube. Where my family, wife, kids (11&14) and myself, restore a classic car. Would this be considered made for kids?

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

Hi, our church streams the church service and often we have a children story for the children in our congregation that is also in the stream. The church service is not targeting children and definitely not geared towards children, but the children story is. We don't monetize the videos and we do not collect any information about our audience. Would that make us fall in the category of "made for Children" videos?

The FTC cannot approve particular websites or online services or provide an opinion on whether a specific site or service is directed to children. If, after reviewing the materials here, you are still unsure whether your site or service is directed to children, 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.

I didn't ask about a specific site, but a specific situation. Since FTC came up with the guidelines, FTC should be able to clarify how they are to be implemented and what they cover. The safe harbor programs are not the FTC.

Do I set my channel to adult to be safe if my channel is geared towards family, family vacation videos, and church videos like children or adults singing or special events? I still do not understand the criteria fully even after reading. Things should be simple. Thanks.

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

Stop giving this automated response. Just answer the darn questions.

Question what if the one watching the contact is not a child but 17 olmost 18 and this fetura are added?

Morning, Thanks for info sir

Yes all of my videos are made for kid

The rule you came up with... Only the YouTube Kids app can have that rule!

It’s made for kids

My account not for children

I think my all videos for kids and mixed audiences.. Nothing bad in my videos so please allow me Thank you..

some channel are not for kids what about rappers will they lose ad revengue

I can totally agree with this rule, it is a very good rule to have. Although one pet peeve I have is when I am trying to watch Mr. Bean, I like to scroll through my recommended on YouTube. So when I do, it stops the video. Why does stopping MiniPlayer make videos better for kids? Just curious.

Very Nice Point

now why in the world i mean it makes sense but you are going to crash youtube in months

Will the Viewer ever get an option to "Report" a video for "reclassification"? For example, I may find a video that is clearly aimed towards a general audience with no connection to children at all yet it's still marked for kids, maybe even Vice Versa. Perhaps I could flag it for inspection and say what I believe it should/shouldn't be classified as? I would also like to add that I find disabling the Miniplayer for Kids is unnecessary. What purpose does it serve disabling it?

Make you tu3be better

Will games like Madden and NBA 2K be considered as for kids or no?? Or any sports content?

Why can't you add kid directed videos to playlists?

How do you make it so people can write comments?

I do ghost box sessions on my videos, also using other paranormal equipment. It’s nothing bad to in my eyes, but i don’t know what setting i should put it under. Is it ok for children to see or not? Can someone advise me please as i don’t want to get into trouble. Thank you

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