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

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.

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

Please don't touch the internet ever again. Blame the parents and not the creators on the internet for what they're doing to their child. Here in Asia, we think your laws are completely stupid and unnecessary.

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. 

Make needed changes to allow those such as paper crafters to not have to worry about being fined or losing their internet base- the vagueness is not only and issue but the entirety of this should be limited to allow ALL PEOPLE to simply state “This video is not for children” at the beginning of a video to relieve them of any tracking or issues involving COPPA

Are video games like pokemon, mario, other nintendo games and video games in general still considered as 'for kids'. Please say no

You need to actually look at the videos. You cannot judge what a video will contain based on a simple thumbnail and such. Take clickbait as an example. Just because a video has animated characters doesn't mean it's kid-friendly. You NEED to switch out some of these requirements, and be more specific.

It's not YouTube's fault. If anything, it's bad parenting.

This is stupid

So far, it looks like most of what I could say about this has already been said by other people. But a question I haven't seen yet is this: How many of these guidelines must a video have to be considered kids? If it has even one of these guidelines, it that video deemed child?

My channel is meant for anyone above 13, as I teach self-help life hacks and psychology hacks. But some of the visuals are questionable.

You see, I have some stuffed animals in the background in a few shots, including some Pokemon. I think of Pokemon as more for teens. But is it still a strike against me?

In my study hack video (which is meant for high school and college students), I have cutely designed pages and I'm using anime theme (which is a very cute young look but lots of animes are rated PG-13 or R despite cute appearances). Is that video is trouble despite the fact that the hacks are too technical for children and many children that age don't even have need for study hacks like that yet?

Some of my videos feature my sister's art, which are cute anime-looking animals. They are shown under a minute in the videos and the content of the videos are often technical and not appealing to kids. Is this not a problem since it's acknowledged that some videos with cartoons are not meant for kids?

I'd really appreciate an answer. Please and thank you.

Where do card games like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic: The Gathering, etc, stand in all of this? They are targeted for children 6+ but most of the player base is in their teens and higher

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.

This NEEDS to be stopped immediately. The rules you have stated are way too vague for anyone to fully understand, there are thousands and thousands of content creators out there who do use animated characters, play games and do activities that may appeal to kids but are not targeting them as an audience. There is no A.I that can accurately detect if a video is aimed at specific groups of people and no company in the world has enough time or staff to monitor every video uploaded onto the platform. I know of a lot of content creators who play games like Minecraft, Pokemon, etc. who don’t have a profanity filter, their conversations between themselves, freinds and viewers are meant solely for adults. A youtuber/streamer by the name of Jahova has even went as far as telling some of his fans parents that their kids shouldn’t be watching his video due to his lack of keeping it child friendly. Why should creators have to suffer when it’s the job of the parents to monitor their children and read the TOS. It clearly states in the TOS that the main youtube platform is for 13+. Going through with this plan WILL destroy many creators careers and more than likely kill the platform of Youtube entirely. This plan needs scrapping immediately.

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

If a creator is not making money from a video in the first place, are they still expected to pay an outrageous fine. If my mom uploaded a video 3 years ago and no longer has access to that account, is she going to be fined. What about 15 year olds who upload videos but don't put the right setting. Do they get fined. If you set your video as not for kids but the FTC thinks otherwise, can it be set to kids afterwards and avoid a fine, sense the creator was not purposely trying to violate coppa.

Other people's children are not our responsibility. It's their parents responsibility. This is absolutely pathetic. This policy will destroy youtube because no one will upload for fear of violating your vague policies and getting fined thousands for doing absolutely nothing wrong.

The definition for what counts as children's content are too general and cover content that are also adult directed or meant for everybody. Furthermore, content creators do not collect data on children, Google and YouTube do.

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.

I think that this is unfair for us content creators, I think instead of this rule parents should block youtube for the kids and let then use youtube kids on their own if they don't want their kid watching stuff like ours. Just my opinion of course, but I do this for fun and this would totally reck it...

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

Hi I’m Joshua Tucker, I think you guys should end this new rule because everyone is going to lose their channel, look I understand that kids look at stuff they shouldn’t but it’s not the YouTubers fault it’s the kids so why blame the YouTubers, It’s like Punishing the person that didn’t do what they shouldn’t, Please end the new rule please it’s not the YouTubers fault.

We really need this? I mean why we have to look for children why they parents cant look for them? And tob be find whit 42.503 per vidwo is to much...for example what if a kid what is about 14 or 13 dont know how to determinate if him video is made or not for kids? U will make him parents to pai 42.503 and destroy him and his parents life? And about the animation how exactly to determinate which animation is made or not for kids? what if the subject are a marture one ex policy and the music are for kids? And about the coments i don't think a kil will just comment from no were "Hey im Mike im 9 and im from Canada i love ur vid". I don't think kids or evryone need COPPA. One more thing what about creators what made content for children? what they will do go and work at a McDonald's? someone creators live with money what make from yt.

This is stupid. First of all, what's the reason for fining content creators $42k? That seems a bit excessive. Secondly, if you strip every feature from children's content creators, they will all just quit or never be found, and kids will only find mature content on YouTube instead of kids content that you want. Also, what the actual heck do the requirements mean? You could pretty much mark any video on YouTube from these requirements.

It's not the creators fault that Karens give their kids phones at age 4

So, first off, you must be thirteen years of age or older to make a YouTube account. Because of this rule, there is implied parental/user consent. Second off, there is specific website called YouTube kids for children under the age of thirteen, and is ad-free and separate from YouTube itself. It is not YouTube's job to find a way to keep kids on their respective site, that is indeed the parents' jobs. Third off, define a targeted ad. Because with today's technology, merely watching TV tells companies what ads to give you. Finally, YouTube is an entertainment platform built on the very same idea that America was founded on; freedom do and say things freely, even make a living, with the government telling what they can and cannot do. I would suggest that this somehow manages to make it through, that you all immediately turn your eyes to even bigger fish that make MUCH more money on targeted ads at children.

Terms are way too vague The reason is honorable but the ways this being done will ruin people’s lives and careers.

While I appreciate that some of our concerns and questions have been addressed, these rules are still vague. Such as, what defies as “child activities”? Does this include certain tv shows, music, or games? You have acknowledged some of this content on YouTube is made/appealed towards both kids and adults, but does this mean only certain family-friendly content is allowed? There are many innocent creators on YouTube who simply want to share their passions with everyone (kids and adults) who are panicking on whether their content would be fined or not. Thank you for answering some of our questions, but there is still many left that we are unsure and worried about.

Can you please just try to figure out how to make it so parents are more responsible about what they let their kids watch? Don't leave it to the youtubers. Leave it to the parents.

This is absolutely unwarranted. Content creators should not have to pay for the irresponsible actions of parents. It is the parents that must be responsible and proactive on what their children consume.

You can’t do this to creators, it’s not our fault. The fine for over 42k is way to much on creators. That’s going to make things much worse. Get rid of that fine, this is youtubes fault. The Creators has nothing to do with what YouTube did. Are you guys working with YouTube to make such a high fine for our FREEDOM OF SPEECH? Back off from creators. It’s not our fault. We don’t need to pay fees over something we enjoy doing. It’s not our fault that videos can be targeted to kids, the system will get so many wrong and so much more. Please just don’t do this. YouTube has YouTube Kids, they can promote it so much better. Please don’t do this to us.

Coppa just needs to be redefined. People of all ages use all kinds of terminology. Terminology is not set in age ranges. Content creators are not responsible for kids. Parents are responsible for kids. The FTC is not responsible for kids. Let parents be parents, and let kids follow their parents, not the FTC, nor Content Creators. Neither the FTC nor the Content Creators are parents of kids. They don't give birth to kids. YouTube needs to be accused of taking info from kids. So therefore, if YouTubers insert ads for their videos, it won't be their fault. Why? Because the content creators aren't actually involved in the violation, nor do we have intention of stealing kids' info. There shouldn't be any content rating if there is a channel or a video being uploaded. Google made YouTube, and therefore, people on YouTube are not involved in the Google company. So it's not Content Creators' faults.

You know if the account is under 13 you could just not allow them to make a account and make it so a timer starts and when they get 13 they are aloud to retry to make a account and in the meantime they can use YouTube kids, I think the kid should still subscribe and the maker gets money but the account should not comment or make videos there selves, also the person who uploaded just can’t do any giveaways. That way it will be more fair sence things are sometimes not only for kids.

So You Tube and the Advertisers are the ones making money off of the collection of information and data on the videos. The Creators have no control over nor access to the collection of said data. The only way for you Tube and the Advertisers to make the revenue is from content the Creators publish. The Creators make very little, if any, from You Tube and none (I believe) from the Advertisers. So how is it that somehow the entire responsibility for this whole situation falls onto the video Creators? It should be sorted out, fixed, and complied with from You Tube itself and, I might add, Parental consent or non-consent and responsibility.

Now I see the rules and things but what about the channels that do stuff on toys like repainting them to make them cooler or even games with animals in them with all this being in effect there might be a chance for kids to watch pornography and or! Violent game play that could warp their minds to think violence is a good thing and think killing things is good So here is my question wouldn't it be better to leave YouTube as is to make kids safer or? Let kids take on violence and you FTC will be at fault?

I just play guitar Instrumentals {:-0

I make videos about carnivorous plants, and sometimes videos that are completely random and have no reason to exist, though I do have a gaming channel, I plan on merging the two, so can I make Pokémon videos, or no? Gameplay and that, also if I mark the video not for kids, does it get age restricted?

I am very confused on the matter

So say I make a video for kids and I don’t say if it is or not, do I have to pay a fine, or does YouTube?

I need answers

This rule should be more cleared and what what about the videos in which things related to middle school is aimed upon? Though the rule is disheartening and might ruin many honest people

Where does anime fall in becuase I'm pretty sure it isnt for kids

While I completely understand the attention to the welfare towards children and what they should not be seeing online, this doesn’t stop any child from just watching content aimed at a older demographic. A kid is going to watch what a kid wants to watch, regardless of the amount of regulation put up.

If a video is using plushies/puppets does that mean it's considered "directed at kids? Also by subject matter does it mean if I make a video about school it's directed at kids? Please explain

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.

You WILL NOT get away with this. You could ruin so many lives from this rule. I am determined to not let this happen. You will fix this. This is no laughing matter. Please, I’m begging you, for so many peoples sake. Don’t do this. Please, please, please. Don’t do this, please.

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 。

Why, you took everything from me, us, all of us, we can’t do anything now?!? No vibrant colors, no talking about stories, we basically have to watch GREY BLOCKS TALKING ABOUT HEALTH INSURANCE. You’ve taken this to far, when 2020 comes, family’s will be DESTROYED, business... WIPED, all because of you, you’re taking everybody’s money away just because of some dumb 80’s safety issue. COPPA, FTC, if you can see this please bring back the YouTube we love.

i don't like that the FTC targets individual Channels. that means that small channels with no Income will be wiped as soon as they do something that the FTC don't like

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