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

If this is goes on, you're going to ruin a lot of people's lives and families around the world.

hi im haley i love youtube but i have a channel that only has 52 subs on it and i make videos and they are not targeting children i honestly think i might need to delete my whole channel if this is going to be the way it is. i respect the new rule but small channels that only have 60 subs and below i would hate to see get fined because of this or people that didnt know about the new law get there videos and whole channel deleted. but youtube does have an app for kids. my sister and i both make videos. but we are at a loss right now i am thinking of moving to instagram ( igtv ) to make my videos. and i have something else one of my channels because i have 2 diffrent channels has a video on it and i forgot the passward for it and the channel only has 7 subs and the video has 8 vews i been making videos since i was 16 and now im 18 i dont want to be fined for 40,000 dallars because im still in school and i dont have that kind of money. i respect the law and i know that this honestly make alot of people upset because of this im praying that this wont effect channels that dont even have over 100 sub not even over 60 subs but thanks and bye.

I am part of the youtube Model Rail Road Community and our content is Suitable for all ages but it it is marked for kids then no more comments and the feedback and advice in our model RR is a big part of why we do the videos so what do we do?? i guess we just quit. this takes big brother to a whole new level the bad part about all this is it will not protect any kids and will destroy peoples lives RIP Youtube 2005-2020

hi it haley i already submitted one but i forgot to say my channel is a for fun thing i dont make money on it my family and friends are the only ones that watch my videos. if the ftc does read both of my comments please dont make people scared of being fined for something that that they cant aford i dont think my content is made just for kids at all because its made for everyone. please take in consiteration of everyone and how they feel. thats why youtube made the app ( youtube for kids) but if you have a kid thats courious, kids will watch what they want anyway and alot of parents monitor there kids devices too. thanks for your time

"competent and reliable empirical evidence about the age of the audience"
I think this is the most important thing to consider. I've been seeing a lot of Youtubers panicking about being mistakenly identified as child-oriented, despite their Demographics Report clearly showing most of their viewers are over 18. Several of them have even considered quitting YouTube. While there obviously aren't any demographics for children under 13, I think there would be a lot less fear-mongering going on if Youtubers could be assured that their Demographic Report alone could be sufficient to protect them from being fined, if it paints a clear enough picture.
Regardless, I still don't agree with this policy on principle. Making child-oriented content very difficult to find on YouTube just means children are more likely to find content that's not appropriate for them. Furthermore, I suspect most parents don't mind their children seeing targeted ads, and even if they do, they could just have their children use the YouTube Kids app instead. But as long as we can be reasonably confident that channels with predominately adult audiences aren't going to be misidentified as children's content and fined, this is a policy I can live with.

Hello FTC COPPA.

I have running cooking channel with my 10- year old son & his friends. All videos participate only for kids age below 18. But we are NOt going to create any video "Made for Kids" or targets any kids. In this case can I need choose "Made for Kids? Pls explain. Also explain impact of Made for kids applied YouTube videos?

Animated content and the use of cartoon characters doesnt mean something is for kids. Thanks for ruining youtube.

As a long time Youtube user, please don't punish the users whose major source of income is from making videos by fining them $42,000 just because they don't fall under the category for children. Do not punish them what is the responsibility of the parents, It's unprofessional and just plain stupid if this is the outcome in January.

This is troublesome and worrying even to someone looking in form the outside as I wonder how this will effect people outside the usa that create content ok youtube, will people in Australia, the UK, and canada (plus many more) also be held to a USA law when laws in canada are already in place to keep children safe from this in addition to restricting children from even purchasing a device to view media until the age of 16, even then the parents are responsible to monitor their children. This isnt a slam dunk on this association but a question from a worried neighbor. Also, I ask that this association better clarifies what it considers child directed content, it says bright colors but the speaker for the FTC wears bright colors themselves, are they targeting themselves towards a child audience? It looks messy and is

these rules if applied can be broadly interpreted and have a chilling affects on 1st amendment rights of content, as creators will fear 40k plus fines and thus alter their speech.

These rules are way too vague. Determination of what is child related might be subject to generalizations and assumptions rather than to actual content. What is wrong with this? You could be making determinations based on stereotypes. Isn't that how unfair profiling starts? I think you need to study this more. It seems the way you are determining whether a channel should be monetized in one of another is totally unfair to the creators.

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. Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint to see the FTC’s analysis in context.

The issue with this implementation is that the content creators themselves do not collect the data, most of the time they don’t even see the data, and until recently, most didn’t even know the data for children that young was being collected. It is reasonable to have content creators mark their videos so that youtube knows what to collect data from, but holding the creators accountable for collected the data of children when Google/YouTube collects the data anyways regardless of input from the creator is holding the wrong party accountable. Google/Youtube collects, uses, and benefits from the data, meanwhile the creators benefit from it, but do not collect or have access to the data in question.

Also, reminding Google/YouTube that there is a thing known as “for everyone content” does exist, because YouTube’s methodology for this change proves that either they do not have a grasp on the law they are violating, or are attempting to violate it more by using the content creators as the scapegoat for the process. Both COPPA’s regulations and Youtube/Google’s regulations are so broad, even in this update, that nobody can reasonably be assumed to know what constitutes child-directed content.

Regarding a portion of this document. In this context, "OPERATOR" refers to a YouTube channel owner or content creator. The document states:

"Once COPPA applies, the operator must provide notice, obtain verifiable parental consent, and meet COPPA’s other requirements."

My objection and concern is that YouTube channel owners have NO METHOD to provide notice and obtain verifiable parental consent before allowing their content to be viewed. The YouTube platform does not allow for such things. This simply is not possible to achieve.

It's not content creators who are collecting data on children; it's YouTube. So why should content creators be held responsible for YouTube's collection of data. YouTube should not be passing the buck to the people who have made them an entity while they merrily go on collecting data as usual.

Can you guys just get youtube to send a notification to the child's parent whenever they are watching a video

This is the worst idea every thought of

Dear FTC, I am a content creator on YouTube and I am EXTREMELY CONCERNED about how YouTube is going to handle COPPA. While it is important that children are protected online, YouTube and FTC's handling of the situation may have massive negative ramifications for content creators. I myself review animated movies and television programs on my YouTube channel in both an analytical and satirical way. While many of the content I review is made for children- my content IS NOT SPECIFICALLY designed for them including adult themes, mild profanity, and serious critical analysis. YouTube claims it will use "machine learning" software to determine what is or isn't made for children- however, as evidenced by their copyright system which also uses machine learning, their system is EXTREMELY FLAWED- and they will amongst other things "the usage of popular animated characters for children" as a determining factor. Despite my not making content explicitly for children- my channel is at risk of being FALSELY FLAGGED and identified as "for children" and I could be fined THOUSANDS of dollars that I do not have.

While COPPA is a necessary safety net to help keep kids safe online, the wording of this is still far too vague.

You specify that any content that uses animated characters,certain types of music, or is using "traditional children’s pastimes or activities" can now fall under being targeted to children. However, the use of animation, certain music, colours etc are not restricted to only kids content. You are labelling broad genres of hobbies/interest under the banner of child content when these areas are also applicable to an adult audience. This method of thinking is outdated when you believe that only "traditionally adult activities" are things like finance, politics, and home ownership.

Many adults work in an industry or enjoy activities like art,gaming,crafts, animation and more. Our hobbies, jobs and activities do not begin and end at "traditionally adult activities". You are going to be punishing content creators who work in these genres because the way you have worded this document means that their content can now fall under this ruling, even though they clearly state their content is not targeting kids,if they contain something in this list they will be punished, even channels who make content aimed at an adult market but are family friendly are in the firing line.

The way you look at content, and define "traditional" adult activities and content needs to be re looked at as you are affecting thousands of peoples lives and jobs with how poorly this written and thought out.

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. Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint to see the FTC’s analysis in context.

This whole thing is absolutely absurd !

Although this is a step In the right direction these updated stipulations are still to vague. Can you explain why the responsibility falls on the content creators rather than on YouTube and the parents? After all YouTube allowed for the data collection of minors and the parents are the ones responsible for this minors.

How can i change my age restriction, my vedio its not made for kids?

Why would the people who lie to YouTube about the viewer being over 13 have any right to complain when YouTube gathers info on the viewer? They entered into a contract with YT and then violated it. It isn’t the videomaker’s fault that the viewer lied. This is sensoring of the arts and is wrong!

Hello FTC.

Please clearly specify what do you mean by child-oriented activities and incentives. You need to provide specific list. Otherwise the wordings of the rule is too broad.

Also please consult YouTube, YouTube creators, parents and YouTube viewers before finalising the ruling. Ruling also should evolve for the best interest of the general public as technology evolves. I hope FTC will kindly understand the modern need of participation of all above parties to make effective ruling.

Also please extend the comment deadline to 01 January 2020.

I believe you should reconsider the coppa guidelines and wait until they are updated

you are ruining my animated dreams for my fellow teens

The way things are classified do not appropriately reflect the reality about the type of content that is available. For example, I have had a channel for the last 10 years teaching adults how to make children's toys using dangerous tools and chemicals that would require direct parental supervision to produce said items. To the naked eye, it would appear that the content is directed towards children since the end result is a toy, but the techniques and tools that are required and discussed are more directed towards an adult with an interest in acquiring the skills necessary to produce one-of-a-kind toys. Your classification system makes it extremely difficult for someone like myself to remain compliant without raising flags. I do believe that before any enforcement is practiced that work needs to be done by the FTC to remedy the predicament they have created. The best way to address this issue would be to eliminate the amendment to the original statute.

Hello there!! I need some help, so I make drawings on YouTube that do have some bright colors but I tend to use: Bad words, Things directed twords young teens and adults and Gore in my drawings.

I much rather have all ages to watch my videos because I don't think kids would be so interested in my art skills. If you need references tell me and I'll post it on YouTube and end you the link!

If you want to talk to me, please do it would help a lot! ^^

Thank you!

I'm a little confused on what the statement in the section: WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE PENALTIES FOR VIOLATING COPPA? They mention penalties for companies, but they don't use content creators. Does this mean that the FTC doesn't fine the creator? They just fine YouTube or Google? Some clarity would help on that as many creators would not be able to handle a $42,530 fine for each violation. Another topic I would like to bring us is how much better and clearer this information is to us than in the September 4th press conference. We thank you for hearing our frustration and for clarifying things for us.

There are so, so many craft channels on YouTube that are absolutely not child directed, yet reading this it seems that they would be covered by COPPA simply because they are a craft channel and children like crafts. These are people who either supplement their income with YouTube or YouTube is, in fact, their job. It just seems wrong to punish someone for doing a job because someone else didn't do theirs. I sincerely hope that the FTC reviews the extremely vague wording of COPPA and that an outcome may be achieved that is beneficial to everyone.

Until you guys give more clarity on how or what you will use to judge if content is made for kids, made for general audiences or not made for kids, this does nothing to alleviate people’s concerns. Why this wasn’t all clearly hashed out between yourselves and YouTube before you started threatening to come after individual content creators on YouTube with $42k fines is beyond me and imo shows a real level of irresponsibility on both YouTube and the FTC’s part.

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. Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint to see the FTC’s analysis in context.

Why are you placing the burden on content creators alone? Where has advertisers responsibility gone? Where has parent responsibility gone? Why not a rating system, similar to the movie industry? What is about to be implemented by the FTC & YT is very unfair to creators & dangerous to freedom!

Ever hear of My Space? That's where YouTube will go if this law is enacted. It seems to me that parents are becoming more lazy when monitoring their children and expecting others to do it for them.

So sad. I've learned so much from You Tube tutorials. Please make this new law clearer to the craft channels so they can continue with their work. I strongly believe this restriction should begin with the parent but understand they can't be watched 24/7. So make channels 18 and up & if the parent alows the child to watch then it's on them. Please reevaluate this decision.

There are a lot of us out here who depend on YouTube for information on just about any subject you can think of. There are also others who view YouTube as a source of comfort and companionship due to long term illness or disabilities. I ask you to please look at this law and realize that the wording is far too vague that is forcing many YouTube channels to remove content and even to remove their channels completely. This is not a win, it is a huge loss for millions of people. Please re examine the guidelines before this becomes irreversible.

Right now, I am just a viewer of YouTube Channels, but want to start making videos. As content creators, we also have rights! What ever happened to holding parents responsible for their kids?! If a parent can not control what a child watches or does, what makes anyone think that some “law” is going to stop a kid? For decades, kids have lied about their age, for many reasons! Why would you think they will stop, now? It is NOT anyone, but the parents, responsibility to protect their children! Parents have gotten lazy and don’t want to parent their children anymore! They let their kids watch and do whatever they want so they don’t have to deal with their own kids! It has become a very sad, sad world! Start holding these parents responsible!

If I may, this changes will harm in a giant manner the likes of YouTube. A lot of people live from uploading videos and the new restrictions are completely unnecessary. "Bright and vibrant colors," seriously? How many adult cartoons/video games contain these, the same goes for pets and children, how many movies do they appear in where it's not appropriate for children and labeled as such. Aside, I know there are a lot of children that watch videos and you want to protect them, but the big majority of people are over 18 years old, and children less than 13 years old do not compose even the 10% of the people who watch this. Restrictions like video games and sports are ridiculous, specially since it's most adults that watch them, not kids. I please ask you to reconsider this, a lot of people will be harmed from this and it will be even worst for children, since dedicated videos for children will lose a LOT of potential quality videos for them. Thank you if you decide to read this, and reconsider the situation.

COPPA is going to destroy channels that have no control over targeted ads. Channel owners don't choose targeted ads or track information, but they are being punished for it? Creators are not at fault for tracking information.

I am not in approval of this terrible thing. This is sucking the money away from people that just want to have successful lives.

We know that the COPPA protects little kids, but this will KILL YouTube and it's creators. Please don't do this. People only upload for fun like me, I don't want to get fined for uploading a simple Minecraft video.

After viewing all of the most popular YouTuber responses to COPPA, I want to add to a prior comment expressing my concerns. The FTC's guidelines at present are extremely vague and arguably overly broad, and it's this that is causing a tremendous amount of anxiety in the content creator community due to the immediate threat of large, life-ruining fines. I would encourage the FTC to establish a system where YouTubers concerned about how some of their videos might be classified can submit their channel to the FTC for review without the threat of fines. After the FTC has made decisions on a few hundred of these channels, and these decisions have been debated, all parties will have a much better understanding of how to classify gray area videos and what impacts these changes are likely to have on the future of the platform. The FTC may then wish to revise and clarify some guidelines so as not to drive away family-friendly content in favor of adult-targeted content, and I suggest that the update of this law allow them to do so later next year.

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. Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint to see the FTC’s analysis in context.

The FTC should not be involved with the regular youtube site, instead they should be more involved with youtube kids. Youtube kids is all kid content, and thats why they made it so regular youtube is untouched and for mature audiences.

Coppa is ruining youtube

How about simplifying the content rating system similar to tv and movies, and instituting parental controls so parents can (must) decide what restrictions to impose.

I feel like this new rule is overly strict. Being one of many animators on YouTube, I'm honestly scared to upload content anymore since I have bright and colorful characters. Plus, a lot of the things I upload don't comply with this rule. I just want to express myself and upload completely harmless and fun content.

I really don’t think that there would have a majority in finances,politics,and other stuff . What you people are talking to us about still would make a lot of people lose jobs 。

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