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

Hi there FTC. If you are reading this, we are pretty much content creators/Youtubers on the community. We can’t look out for people’s kids because we are content creators, not babysitters. Parents need to take care of their Children properly, not let their kids go on the internet and lie about their age, cyberbully etc. It wouldn’t be our fault if their parents see their kids watching something that is not suitable for them. It is the parents fault for not looking after their children. Thank you for this information but please understand this. Thank you!

If Your Channel Is Not Monetized Will Your Channel Still Be Flagged?

How About The Viewers Account is Set To Kids Or Not For Kids Instead Of The Tuber

Please consider all of the DYI content providers that are freaking out because this is a real source of income and, like my wife, they believe that they are going to suffer because it is mixed content and they are afraid of being put out of business. If the content is put under YouTube Kids, is it still making money for the DIYers? Isn't there a more feasible approach? I turned in an idea months ago that I felt would solve a lot of problems for everyone and never heard anything about it, plus it was YouTube staff friendly meaning that it wasn't going to cost YouTube anymore to implement.

This going make more problems, there will be less kid content on the platform. Two it was YouTube that was collecting the data, how creators were know those features were collected data? YouTube should take full responsibility instead cause in future lawsuits against this law and should let folks what going on in first place.

GOOD luck Federal Trade Fommission

What if animations or games not for kids but looks like directed-for-kids??? Like uses bad language (Example:SMG4)

What music is geared towards kids?? I get music like baby shark is but what about instrumental music or music like EDM and dubstep? Or even music gear review videos? This is all too vague. Someone please help! I make retro electronic music and do music gear reviews. Am i safe??

my video is not for kids

I also worry about the labeling, because I make my videos for everyone, I post them for people to laugh, if it's a bit questionable I'll put a warning in the title or description

What if i mark my videos as 18+ will i have the risk of getting fined?

If your lying and it has kid directed content, then yes.

Thank you for extending the comments period and for recognising that in this nostalgia filled age and where many western animations are attempting to deal with more mature issues, content discussing things like animation may often not be aimed at children.
Audience viewing metrics could be useful to determine who is consuming such content too.

Most importantly, as the FTC has spurred Google to make their proposed changes, by allowing them this 'compromise', the FTC should bear some duty of responsibility in making sure Google invests sufficient time and money in implementing it's share of the changes, in a way that won't simply destroy a lot of small business, with no reasonable means for appeal.

How will I know if my content is safe or not from a fine ? Because it wasnt really specific on what are videos should look like for kids and what it shouldn’t look like for not for kids

While i appreciate that you wrekonize that animation is not just for children there are some that aren’t for children at all. Have you ever heard about family guy or south park or any of adult swim’s content e.g. Rick and Morty and robot chicken? There all cartoons and clearly not for children as the Name imply. The whole languige thing also makes me raise an eyebrow like i understanding Mommy or daddy but even those Words are sometimes used for sexualy active partners and the Words you examplify i wouln’d say are so kid orienten as you say they are. Both these things seem to be considered kids content because you think they are or because you’ve heard everyone else say it (age stereotypes) and if that’s the reason i don’t think it they should be imploderar to your rules about what makes a video armed at children.

Are you allowed to say words such as crap, or freaking on a child directed channel or will you get fined?
I’m very concerned please reply soon.

What if some videos you’ll make in the future are NOT kid friendly, but the ones right now are? I’ll be making Fran Bow content, so that’s directed above 13.

Are all shooting/gun games not kid friendly

Im sorry...
But I think no one likes the new coppa update in youtube...
Im just wondering can you please just not do the coppa update?
Just let the parents do the parenting...and don't let the users that hasn't logged in watch videos...
And don't let users to delete history videos...
So the parents can see what their kids are watching...please.....

It would be better if instead of categorizing kids, and adults, they just put a filter so "kids" can't share private information. They have systems like this on lots of popular games with chat. It would be much less a hassle of categorizing everything. What about if we want to share our content with "kids" and "teens"? Yes having a mixed option would be good, but why have to filter out content in the first place. Filtering the comments so kids can't share information would be much more simpler. -It would be nice if COPPA or youtube would consider this.

I understand the concern of parents and the FTC. However, I feel there are some problems regarding the implementation of COPPA on content creators. For one thing, the guidelines for what constitutes content that is "directed to children". I personally feel it is unfair for content creators to be punished for the actions of user-generated platforms. If COPPA goes into effect, it will become the responsibility of content creators for the actions of the individuals who are in charge of the platform. I encourage the FTC to reconsider COPPA. If any action must be taken to enforce these guidelines, I feel the consequences should fall to the those in charge of the platform and not those who make content for the platform and have no say over what the platform does. Thank you for taking the time to read this comment.

Why even have a mixed content? We don't need to "age" filter at all...Instead why not just filter comments.There are plenty of games, and sites, that use filter chat so that "kids" can't share private information online. YouTube could have looked into this also. -It would be nice if YouTube would look into this- It would be much simpler for viewers, and creators.We shouldn't be mad at creators of kids. It's not there fault (older kids should know better though). YouTube should have thought of this in the first place.

There is one thing I do not understand. Does the $ 42,530 kernel happen if we use children illegally for our videos, or whenever our videos are misclassified? if I say that my video is not for kids, but YouTube thinks otherwise, am I paying $ 42530 for the almond, or not?

I have an interesting question: If you point out in the video (i.e. In the title, beginning and ends of the video, and in the description) that your content is for an audience of 13 or over, does that comply with COPPA? The reason why I am asking this is because if the creator puts an age warning stating that the video is meant for older audiences, then that should mean the creator pointed out their target audience, though, I might've missed something while researching.

Regulations are not going to stop kids from lying about their age to access content or use online services. Though your regulations state protection of children as your goal, the unintended consequences, the cumulative effect of YouTube having lost major advertisers due harmful videos and the way YouTube is using this law as an excuse to discourage any content creators from making videos for children by removing any incentives to create and removing ability for children to find or follow the creators. My children absolutely love a Minecraft YouTuber and use the platform for various educational and nature videos. I love to watch tutorials and tips on watercolor painting. I also learned how to change the cabin air filter in my car and various other helpful videos. I don’t think what the FTC is proposing with COPPA I has I’ll intentions. It isnYouTube’s undermining approach, using COPPA an excuse, to win back lost advertisers. However, I do believe government restrictions are overreaching the bounds, parents have the rights and responsibilities to restrict or allow their children’s actions.

What about gaming channels that play games that might appeal to kids like fortnite or pokemon. These games could be considered kids games but adults play them too and we can't control who watches our videos. What if you play these games but your content not made for kids . Would you consider it for kids content the rules are to vague and make it open to interpretation which is a problem for creators trying to comply with them.

There is a significant and obvious flaw in the mentality behind this law, and that is in the creation of "kid's content" as an absolute and distinct form of criteria.
COPPA is United States law, but it applies globally to all communities across every culture. What applies as "kid directed content" in one society is different to what is even considered appropriate for adults in another. Even within different subsets of a nation's population, different people are going to decide what is "for kids" in different ways. In addition, over the course of time, these standards will inevitably change within the context of every society. This law sets out to create an utterly vague and culturally tone-deaf definition of what "kid's content" is defined to be.
The problem is that it is entirely subjective as to what constitutes "kid's content". It's an opinion, more than fact, whether set of identifiers REALLY counts as "kid's content". US law presumes to define one standard that all societies across the world are to be legally bound to? Is that even Constitutionally sound? This seems like it could potentially cross into the territory of a violation of free speech/expression.
This is a matter that has potentially disastrous legal consequences on certain content creators who exist somewhere between the general audience exception and "kid's content", so you NEED to outline an absolutely exact set of criteria as to what qualifies as, beyond ANY form of ambiguity, "kid's content". But how can that possibly be done fairly on a global level and context when the definitions of what counts as "kid's content" differs between cultures and generations? And these standards/outlines have to somehow be applicable within every society and culture, and be amended in light of changes throughout generations, which is exceedingly unlikely to happen. The current outlines are unacceptably vague, and because of this, it is almost guaranteed that many innocent content creators will face penalties where it is not remotely warranted.
Why not instead focus on the real problem in this situation; the gathering of personal data? Personal data should not be obtained through YouTube, Google, Facebook or any other website in any way, regardless of the age of the user. ANYONE can become a victim through the misuse/misappropriation of their online information. Security measures should be put in place that make the misuse of people's personal information far less likely to occur. Then, it wouldn't matter whether kids lie about their age to create a YouTube account. They won't become victims if YouTube (or other entities) are unable to SHARE that personal information.
Another thought: what if you delete your entire channel in an attempt to avoid violating the law? Let's say a certain video on your channel wound up being viewed mostly by kids. Personalized ads were present and the kid's personal data was involved. Are you now guilty of violating COPPA? Can YouTube or FTC go through the records of how and where kids' information was gathered and find your video(s)/channel to be guilty, even if you had no possible way to know? Then what?

what about Kids actors in horror movie on youtube?

I understand this COPPA thing now but I’m still unsure about inappropriate language (swearing).

More than likely swearing will fall under language kids won't understand

Nooo!!! We don't Need this!

As a Christian, I don't do a lot of mature content, but my Channel is not directed at kids. I handle or talk about subjects kids should not hear. I review PG-13 movies or mature games. I shouldn't be punished because my content is clean. I make it for people my age (in their 20s). Its a community for my Christian friends to come and watch content made for them. Other people are welcomed cause I make it for all. There isn't a lot of content for Christians out there that don't go overboard on the mature content so, I try to provide something we can watch. Thank You.

Can you please reconsider for people on YouTube that make content for all ages on the site because this might do more harm then good.

Please stop coppa for YouTube. You didn't need to sue yt because parents tell their kids if they are able to use YT. Just please reply to me, I'm scared we all are gonna get sued because my family is poor and I dont wanna get sued... please...

same problem here

Excuse me FTC, but please do not put the blame on creators. This is all YouTube's fault, YouTube violated COPPA, not creators. Most creators make content for general audiences, so please threaten YouTube into allowing creators to label their content as such!
COPPA poses a threat to people's livelihoods!

Any sort of fine would simply ruin me! I am experiencing growth on my ASMR Channel and would hate to stop uploading in fear of boing bankrupt. Please make your guidelines CLEAR because we simply cannot tell whether our content is child friendly or not.

Being a content creator on YouTube I have no control of anything but the content I produce. Even though I choose to monetize my content, I have no control of or am not responsible for any aspect that the FTC has jurisdiction of such as Web owner or social media platform. I have no control over, where my video is placed, how many people it is displayed in front of, or how many or what ads are placed next to my content, or what cookies are placed on the viewers device. I am also not able to inform any parent of the content or cookies collected or placed.

Content creators can not collect any data from their videos other than the limited amount of data the service provider allows it's users to see. Content creators are users of a service, not owners of the service. We may use the channel name on YouTube and that is all we have control of on YouTube except the content we upload to the service.

The social media platform has complete control of everything that happens to my video after I upload it to the service. The only thing I control as a content creator is the content I produce. In my opinion, my content is definitely not for kids but who's to say, other than one of your employees, what is child directed or not child directed. The rules for this determination are so vague, that it is nearly impossible to determine what is child directed unless it is obvious to all viewers that the content is for children.

The more you try to regulate what children are exposed to will result in more content not suitable for the children to watch. They will find a way because the parents that are responsible for what these children are exposed to are not protecting their own children. Like the closing statement from the good doctor in your work group stated. "The parents have enough to worry about, they don't need the extra pressure of policing their children." If the parents don't take the time to police their own children, then THEY are failing their children, not anyone else. You can't continue to regulate outsiders if the parents don't take the first step, or any step to regulate what the children are exposed to everyday!

I ask that you consider the following:

1. Establish better definitions of child directed content.
2. Place parents back into being responsible for what their children watch.
3. Keep web operators & social media platforms responsible, not their customers (content creators).
4. Establish fines for parents who neglect the safety of their children by allowing them access on non protected devices.

I"m all for protecting children, but there seems to be more gray area than not for so many "family friendly/clean" youtube videos/channels that are not directed towards children but with the current wording if one child decided they were interested in the content, the channel owner would be liable for fines although they had no intention of marketing their videos to children, and no control over how youtube collects data but simply because their content is clean and not offensive, could be considered of interest to some child at some time.... It seems like it would be more practical to put the responsibility on Youtube or any other provider to have the viewer verify their age is over 13 (or whatever the critical age is) and how they collect data (what type of data) from those viewers... without exposing perfectly harmless DIY Craft videos, and similar type channels that have G rated content but do not intend to have an audience of children's to fines and penalties or have the only other option be to have all their comments & interaction removed, and their chance for monetization on their channels greatly minimized to the point they just won't produce any content for fear of retribution by the FTC...

The new rule is unproductive because...

It's unjust: creators should not be penalized for parents' poor decisions. There's already a YouTube Kids. If the parents do not utilize it, the responsibility should be on them.

It's too harsh: creators can be fined for accidentally mislabeling a video.

It kills channels: child-appropriate channels (even if they're adult-targeted) may shut down to avoid fines or be de-monetized and die for lack of income.

It's too vague: there is no clear definition for what makes a kids video, increasing the likelihood for honest mistakes.

It's ironic: because child-appropriate channels will shut down or go bankrupt, the rule meant to protect kids will decrease the amount of child-appropriate media available on the internet.

In short, it's a mistake.

what about animations for adults?

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.

Dear FTC, how can this be the case please? We as channel owners have no access to viewer data collected by Youtube or Google. We have no control over YouTube or Google. We do not ask for this data or require it. We have no way at all to ask parents for permission. All we do is upload a video to YouTube, after that other than removing the video we have no control how it is served by YouTube. I hope you can accept this and change things accordingly?

If I ask a question, can I please get a response? If someone has a private YouTube channel just for "family videos", how is it to be marked? For kids...since the videos are of the kids? Even if nobody is going to see them except family members and a few close friends, how should it be marked?Thanks!

From what i know al private videos will be an exception

Its interesting that the "creators" are commenting , but not offering any solutions to the issue. The facts are that these "creators" are the first in line to define who their videos target. I don't see any proactive going on in the vlogger community to address the privacy of kids. Its about time that the FTC gets involved and has to establish safe ways to prevent "creators from targeting children.

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