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

Once again adults who don’t understand the internet making laws because parents don’t know what their kids are doing on the internet

YouTube channels are an important source of income for many YouTubers. This new law will cause many people to lose their jobs, and their passions. YouTube also plays an important role in review videos, many of which seem to be directed towards kids, but are actually directed towards adults.

COPPA is on the overbearing side of things for three reasons.

1) There are a wide variety of audiences. Many channels with more mature audiences in mind (e.g. tutorial channels for fixing things, gameplay channels, comedy channels, music channels) will likely be taken down.

2) Children will eventually grow out of the channels tailored towards said children and become part of the more mature audiences. Which means another audience lost.

3) If child-friendly is the intention, it would be wiser to make a secondary video streaming website that only has child-friendly content in mind. Youtube has always been fun for the masses, and this development has caused a tremendous amount of backlash.

Things will continuously get worse. As more people take the fall, so will Youtube. Until there is nothing left but a one-generation audience. And after that, no more generations will stick around to even view a video.

My videos are uploaded for everyone not only chile if any persons are like my videos

i can't do this anymore. i am okay with certain channels being taken out like toy review channels but not this.

YouTube shouldn’t need to be directed to kids. Not all animated doesn’t have to kids at all. They are animated that are pg-13 and R rated. You do realize. YouTube is been doing it over decades. You change that. Over 60 percent of channels will go against you FTC and COPPA. You still don’t understand anything. You are extremely out of touch. That is reality.

This is wrong, this so wrong. The FTC is not helping anything, all they're doing is trying to ruin lives and crush dreams and COPPA is only going to make it worse. So what I'm asking for is that the FTC withdrawal from YouTube and #RepealCOPPA.

This rule is too vague. If I post a video from an amusement park like Disney, of course that is going to appeal to kids yet my channel is not geared towards kids. There should be a general audience section for family-friendly content as well. Honestly, the REAL way to prevent all of this is to force companies like YouTube to force you to sign in to an account to watch content, that way age can already be established and it now falls on the parents. There is an easier way, companies like YouTube just choose to punish the small creators like us because they screwed up! I am sure the FTC can find a way to remedy this.

I am an ADULT toy collector, I play video games, I love pop culture. I watch YouTube videos that cover topics and hobbies that I'm truly passionate about. These videos are targeted towards us nerds that are adults that enjoy are hobbies. You are taking away our ability to come together and discuss are hobbies and interests with like-minded individuals. It may come as a shocker that probably more adults spend more money on toys than kids. How about parents actually do their job and monitor what their kids are doing instead of the government feeling as though they need to be the parents.

Hello FTC I have a question I'm a new creator on YouTube I make animations with animals and other characters. My art style is very animated but I don't want kids to see my art as some of it is more mature. Some of it is gory and dark I never show actually blood but like a dog with a skull head. But because of my art style am I in danger of doing something wrong even though I mark my content as not for kids? I want YouTube to be safer for kids but I also want to be able to continue to make my art. The majority of my art is very happy and gore free but even when its gore free am I in danger of doing something wrong because of my art style? I'm a really new artist. I'm 19 I'm still a kid in a sense and I don't want to do anything to in danger myself unknowingly. Can I get in trouble for marking my content 'not for kids' if its friendly in general. Like if its an animation of a dog playing with another dog and has a bunch of bright colors and I mark it as not for kids because. I'm not trying to make anything for kids to view I'm making stuff for my age group and above. Can I get in trouble if its determine to be kids content by computer scanners? Even though I marked it as adult content. I can't control who watches my videos. And I want to help make YouTube safer. Can you help me understand things more please. also I wanted to thank you for looking out for kids and for protecting them. I love making adult content and I don't want kids to see it simply because it wasn't made for them or with the intention of them being viewers.

Thanks for the article. It was a huge help.

I believe that it is important to protect children's information, but I believe the current rules, as applied to YouTube may put up barriers to creators that are unnecessary. There are videos that are created with children in mind. There are videos that are created for an adult audience. And there is a third classification that your current guidelines completely ignore: family friendly content. This is content that even young children CAN watch, and may include some things that appeal to children, but they are not created FOR children. Many content creators at this time are confused by the guidelines and are left wondering if they are responsible for editing out any and all things that might appeal to children at the risk of being fined for violating COPPA rules. This is unreasonable. Please adapt the guidelines and categorization so that there is a place for family friendly content without it being classified as "for children" when it really isn't.

I have a question.If we put a blood in gacha life videos does that mean we are not kid friendly?

I have a concern for this. There are cartoons that are geared towards adults and teenagers. There are also video games and Computer games not appropriate for children. What happens to them?

Hello good sir,I know protecting children is important but can u try to manage on that by trying to not worry other youtuber's about their channels?Thank you.

1. The fine is COMPLETELY ridiculous. YouTube will loose the majority of their channels because people on YouTube can't afford to pay that amount.
2. It is NOT the youtubers problem if someone's child stumbles upon their channel and It's not for kids. Youtubers have no control of their audience. Plus, many underage kids lie about their age to make a google account. So there's no way of knowing if there's any kids watching your videos.
3. Why..?

There have been complaints from creators that specifically mark their content as "not for kids", but YouTube, either by bot or manually, changes the designation to "for kids" and continues to change it after the creator has returned it to the proper rating. YouTube has specifically said that "creators know their audience best". What would be your response if you happen to catch a video marked as such?

Hello FTC! I just wanna say, why did COPPA "Take over" youtube? Cause i dont understand what's happening. Is youtube being saved or something?

If The FTC reads this, thank you for your time.

Hello! Thank you for this update, it is very much appreciated. My comment is more of a question. So you said you recognize some animated content appeals to everyone.

"...just because your video has bright colors or animated characters doesn’t mean you’re automatically covered by COPPA... the FTC recognizes there can be animated programming that appeals to everyone."

Does that mean content that appeals to everyone is exempt from COPPA compliance, even if kids under 13 are part of the "everyone" that's watching?

Another question, do you make a distinction between "intended audience" and "actual audience"? According to my understanding of what YT told us, the "intended audience" is irrelevant if the "actual audience" is kids. However, in this document it seems like the decisive factor for you to implement COPPA is the "intended audience" not the "actual audience".

"...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".

Many YouTube creators think they're not covered by COPPA because their intended audience has never been kids. But YouTube being a wildly popular free service, and kids being the curious, learning-hungry little people they are, they have found these channels. So by some unintended evolutionary process, these channels now have a considerable kid audience. Are they right in thinking they are not covered by COPPA?

Hi dear FTC!
I understand your concern regarding kids privacy protection. We have 6 kids in our house and they are obsessed over mobiles. But when I give anyone of kids my phone and the ad that comes before video is some kind business tool because I am a business owner.
The solution provided doesn't fit in current situation.
I recommend you guys should give this another 3-6 months to really dig deep because this will decide the future of technology.
This will literally burn alot of houses. People have spent so many years creating videos and all there hard will go to waste. It is not fair on them.
SUGGESTION:
What you can do that ask YouTube to put a system in place that can just review the advertiser and Mark it as trusted and if someone is spamming they can just categorize third ads not suitable for kids so the system doesn't show those ads on kids directed content. That way people will not lose money and advertiser, content creators and FTC and COPPA can be happy.

What about people who make family friendly contact not kid

Don't you guys think your wording is too vague.

This entire thing can ruin people's lives, you can't decide that what we make is for kids if we say it is not, you are scare mongering, kids will still watch videos that are not for kids that's not the content creators fault and yet they are the ones who will suffer for this

Whats happens:
If a creator uploads a video,
ticks the box declaring that the content is not for children
a bot or human MANUALLY recategorises the content as suitable for children

Who's responsible for that video now?

I ask as I have seen some creators having this done to them which they have caught on video.

Seems like a brilliant way for someone to ruin someones channel/income, because the person manually checking doesn't care about the creators, just cares about his/her own pay packet... which is probably pennies compared to the creators earnings.

What if my content is directed at a 13+ but has the slangs and sayings of a 12 year old?

YouTube has rules that children under 13 should not be on YouTube, but instead on their site YouTube kids. This would put 100s or 1000s if people out of a job.

Dear FTC
As of right now there are a lot of content creators using YouTube as their main source of income and as the Coppa law comes into place many of them will lose the opportunity for their usual viewers to watch their videos and this is also taking their jobs from them just by making them list their video as “for kids”. Please reconsider this decision
Yours sincerely, a YouTube viewer

Many YouTube content creators can't afford any fine at all. I know at least one whose in his preteens, and know there are more teenage and younger people out there who make videos.

Are you planning on slapping twelve-year-olds with tens of thousands of dollars in fines they can't hope to afford just because they pushed the wrong button when they made their video? If so than you clearly don't actually care about protecting kids at all.

There are social media lawyers who have read this, and don't clearly understand which videos are targeted for kids. I am a small channel owner, but I don't think my channel is for kids, because it's dangerous by nature. I do however have a daughter, and my wife has been scared that she will lose many of the channels that, my daughter loves to watch so much. This is because of the fear that many of the channel owners are facing. If a parent allows their child on YouTube; they are consenting to youtube collecting data on their child. I have known they do that, as long as I have used YouTube. Personally; I would rather my daughter be exposed to personalized ads about playdough; instead of being exposed to random ads, that may or may not be appropriate.

This doesnt help......

if in a video for children in a few minutes some blasphemies or swear words and still for children appear? for example in a 5-minute video for children but at 2 minutes a dirty word or blasphemy appears and again for children?

There are a lot of animators that make adult content. If someone labels their stuff for adult. Then it is for adult and shouldn't be fine because some idiot doesn't take the time to properly understand the content.

Same goes for video games. Many video games are for a mature audience but get labeled for child because it is a video game.

This doesn’t help anyone.

I don't think it's right to fine YouTubers slot of money for not making it is content. I am trying to start my own channel and it's going to be much harder. I have a 6 year old autistic son who feels better when he watches some of his channels. I monitor his channels. I think I should be in charge, not the government.

people controlling channel(/s) do not have complete control the ads that play on their videos let alone know what ads play(they only know the categories of the ads). the platform(youtube) is collecting the data, the only difference is the channel will get a harsh fine for incorrect labeling. i understand that COPPA needs to be put in place; but the method youtube is implementing it seems self defeating and harmful to kids creators. another issue arising if for the middle ground which is something you address, but youtube does not do as a method of exploit. content creators are getting punished for youtube's wrong doing; you are allowing the perpetuation of what you're supposed to prevent by allowing another part of the consumers(content creators) to be subject to unfair treatment. sure content creators produce content to consume, but they are still consumers of the youtube service.

-Content creators do not collect data on children for advertising or anything else.
-YouTube has not gone the best job with ensuring that the members of their website are 13 and up
up.
-YouTube has a child friendly app.
-The specific characteristics to determine if a video or videos are towards children or not are extremely vague and broad.
-Not every piece 9f content is for kids. This includes cartoons as well.
-Parents depend on apps to babysit their children and typically don't monitor what the children to watch.

The Six-Step Compliance Plan for Your Business says You must comply with COPPA if:

Your website or online service is directed to children under 13 and you collect personal information from them.

OR

Your website or online service is directed to children under 13 and you let others collect personal information from them.

OR

Your website or online service is directed to a general audience, but you have actual knowledge that you collect personal information from children under 13.

OR

Your company runs an ad network or plug-in, for example, and you have actual knowledge that you collect personal information from users of a website or service directed to children under 13.

The COPPA laws need to be addressed before addressing the channel owners. Parents need to be more aware of the what they are doing when they buy their 6 year a cell phone or hand their phone over without enabling a kids mode. As a gaming channel geared towards 18 and up audiences and not recommend to anybody under 13, this scares me. As a parent, I am appalled that so many people let their kids watch something and then blame the creator for their own ignorance.

Do I have to make a verificable parental consent if I mark my videos on Youtube as: "made for kids", without having an external software that colects personal information of people under 13 years old?

COPPA needs to stop right now!

Hey FTC. Can you please make YouTube have a General Audience option in the channel settings? Because as far as I know they still haven't put one in yet.

Thanks for the update, my channel isn’t made for kids just for the real thing, my channel is for adults only

Good read! My problem is as a hunter and Fisher I may see things as being safe for children since I believe with safe practice kids can hunt and fish but some parents may see the killing of animals as not being something safe for their children to see. How do I determine what's ok and what's not.

Hello my channel is mostly focused on reviewing albums and my general audience is teens and adults and is also my target audience. I need to know where i can make sure my content is not for kids due to me swearing here and there and the context and concept of the albums i am reviewing are not safe for kids to listen too. Where do i check off my content as "not for kids"

Just get parents to make their kids watch YouTube kids

Creators should not be responsible for ad content when they cannot choose the content of the ads and they do not control the cookies that is done by Google and is their responsibility.......

I'm sure this has been said many times, but these changes - although possibly good in some ways for the protection of children - could really harm a lot of wonderful creators on this platform! There are many channels that I and a lot of others know and love that we want to make sure stay. It's understandable that some rules are being applied for safety. But, please don't let it force good channels, that may be considered directed at children in some ways, to stop uploading or to decrease their content. We love these channels and they create content that makes us happy. There are good creators that make a lot of kids happy too. It is possible that all these changes are going to do is make it so that less kids want to watch videos on this platform, and that would really be sad. What I'm asking is : please don't let good creators on the platform be harmed by this. Thank you.

This rule is much too harsh. Much of the content on YouTube is not directed towards children but still safe for them to watch. By punishing those who make such content, you're ruining the creative community of YouTube. There are already people leaving the site for fear of the fine.

I am a gaming Youtuber (albeit a very small one) and i am worried for my content. My channel is not intended for kids (it is for ages 13+ as i swear profusely in my videos and later content will NOT be very child-friendly), though some of my games that i play may appear to be kid-friendly. I do not have the money to pay any fines and i really do not want to delete my channel/not upload for fear i will be attacked because of the vagueness of this law.

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