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

how can I accept COOPA that my video clips are no longer for children?

Hello FTC. Why you not have "video for everyone" because some games isn't only kid(-13) but everyone can watching such as minecraft roblox. please keep comments

Say you make Gacha Life videos or animation (memes, animated music videos, etc.) Will COPPA affect the channels that create the videos or are WE safe?

The thing that I want the FTC to take into account is that there are things that appeal to both kids and adults. For example, a YouTube Animator. Of course, animated characters do appeal to a younger audience, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't appeal to an older audience too. That would be like saying that Pixar might be violating rules protecting kids. Sure, there are animated characters there, but they also tackle heavy themes. Take the first few scenes from Up for instance or the suspicions of Helen Parr, that her husband is cheating on her in The Incredibles. That just doesn't make sense. An animation can appeal to anyone, kids, teens, and adult alike. Another big thing is Gaming. Of course, kids play videogames, but adults do the same. There are so many videogames out there, some can be dedicated to children, and others for adults. You don't see a 7-Year Olds playing Dark Souls, but you do see adults playing Undertale. You don't see kids playing Blizzard, but you do see everyone playing Smash Brothers. Videogames are something that, like animation, applies to all ages. If that would happen then, just like online gamers, Nintendo might be violating laws protecting children, because Smash Bros has cool characters, and anyone can play it, but, because kids can play it, and like it, does that mean that adults can't too. Another thing is music. So, because my 7-Year old brother plays the piano, does that mean that my 42-Year old uncle can't? That just doesn't make sense. The same thing with pets, kids aren't the only people in the world who like pets. Adults do too. Also language. Just because kids use the word "cool" or "whatever", adults can still use those words. So under that logic, just because an adult uses the word "oxygen" a kid can't. Even though most kids know what oxygen is and might use it. Or with the word "evaporation", according to the American school system, kids learn about the Water Cycle in the 4th year of school. Where the word evaporation is a keyword. So, because it's an adult word, kids can still use it. It just doesn't make sense. Kids and adults are different but there are thousands of channels out there that, play videogames, animate, play with pets, all those channels, that could be enjoyed by kids and grown-ups alike. My suggestion is to have that in mind. While evaluating YouTube channels and videos, keep in mind that maybe that content can be enjoyed by both sides. Even though my brother and uncle enjoy the same channel because it teaches them Piano songs varying the difficulty, that channel would have to pay a huge fine because something enjoyed by adults, the piano, could also be enjoyed by kids. In short, just understand that different people lki like different things and that there truly is no way to know what is for kids. Just like both kids, adults, and teens, can enjoy playing instruments, playing with pets, playing videogames, and watching animations.

What if I aim my content at nobody? Like, anyone can watch so...

I'm not gonna lie. Either the people at YouTube had a collective brain Aneurysm, and they thought this was a good idea. Or they're genuinely trying to Destroy their own platform now. if this goes through almost every creator is going to pull out of YouTube from fear of being sued by the FTC.

I want COPPA and FTC to leave YouTube alone

I would really appreciate it if you would change your rule so that the Creators that I know and love won't have to suffer the consequences of creating videos within your kid-friendly guidelines. I understand that you are trying to protect the kids, but maybe you could do it another way that doesn't involve such a harsh punishment.

I am From Thailand

We. Need. A. General. Audience. Option.

Does this rule affect unlisted videos? Because all of my content is directed towards children but I make some of my videos unlisted (only people with the link can view it) and it has some adult moments.

Are games grand theft auto dedicated to children?

why did you sue youtube?

No I don't intent to make video for kids but as long as no violation to my video kids are also welcome to watch this video

No more COPPA stay away from YouTube leave YouTube alone and don't touch YouTube you get me

Could you please explain what all this means or at least explain why this is such a big deal now? This is such an outdated law and I don’t think it’s fair. I make improv videos of my Barbie dolls and I’m a 24 year old woman with autism. I don’t think it’s right that you’re taking this away from me and so many other people. Please respond to this.

i couldn't upload video

Hi Sir we are unable to communicate to our viewer and our revenue lost what we do as a creator pls help

My video is made for everybody is just made for entertainment for everyone

My channel for all not only for childrens

One problem here is that you say it depends on who you're targeting... but the problem is, almost nobody's channels I've seen has specifically targeted young children (not saying they're not there, just saying I haven't seen them). And, this is probably YouTube's responsibility, not the FTC's, but I still have to ask how this will be enforced. Though you acknowledge that animation doesn't necessarily equal kid-friendly, I think that is will be enforced through bots (though I don't have any official confirmation, so correct me if I'm wrong), and bots don't usually have the same common sense humans do. I think it's a bit odd you're saying it's up to our discretion, unless you disagree with our discretion. How do we know what you'll disagree with and what you won't? Even though our better judgement may say it's not, what do we do if you disagree even though we fully had the intent at aiming it at adults?
Also, I thought the whole problem was that kids under thirteen were using YouTube and weren't supposed to be using it, therefore being vulnerable to their information being collected... but if all the kid-friendly content is nearly invisible, won't kids' personal information STILL be collected because kids are still on YouTube when they're not supposed to be AND can't access kid's content, so will now have personal data collected on the only stuff they can watch: non-kid-friendly stuff?
I do understand your cause and the purpose of COPPA, and realize that children are very vulnerable to being easily influenced and not understanding that what they're watching is an ad. I like that you want to protect children's online safety; but I think holding content creators responsible for what a kid might or might not do isn't the way to go. Parents should be held accountable for what their kids do on the internet - not content creators.
Imagine I owned a company that made glass cups and a kid used it because they thought it looked cool, but accidentally broke it and stepped on a shard, getting hurt. Now, MY COMPANY has to mark every one of them kid friendly or not because a kid might or might not want to play with it and hurt themselves, and if someone thinks I marked one wrong, I can be fined. Did the kid deserve to get hurt? No. But should the company be held accountable? Probably not. (That wasn't a good metaphor, but I think you get the point.)
I realize this is a complicated issue and there's a lot about it that I don't understand. Thanks for trying to protect kids, but this is too aggressive (in my opinion).
There's a lot I don't understand about this issue; so this may have been an uninformed response. If anyone knows how to answer my questions or can correct me, please do, and I'm not exactly sure how much of this is up to the FTC and how much is YouTube, though I have a general idea.l
This isn't meant to be disrespectful - and I'm sorry if it comes off that way, I'd just like to this in a way that harms creators less and protects kids more.

I have a qestion what if a child does click on your video when it’s not made for kids and if you put its not for kids when it kinda is can you still get in trouble? What if you want to get people older than 13 to your channel do you still mark no? Please reply to this I am kinda. confused?

Yes my channel is for kids

So you're fining content creators because Google's trackers are gathering information about users? That's backwards.

Please my channel monitization on

What about crafting content? what about an informational travel channel where some of the people in a family are children? You are very vague on these points. I want further clarification about these two subjects. The reason? I offer Crafting tutorials not geared towards children, yet a child may be interested in the video. I am planning a family vacation to Disney World. I want to give pointers to adults who may have children with them what they can do with their children during their vacation. I know of people who have family channels and they are parents. you have not been clear on this matter.

I would like COPPA to be stopped

What about drawing cute stuff, but the characters are mostly teens?

Please my youtobe account adtiting video on my channel please

This law is killing the Internet. Where is the freedom of expression that we were promised. Why you always censure us, the creators. At the base, all we want is to share what we love with the world. Will also need to censure the film or video game industry because it may interest children and that large companies can collect "data" ? Seriously, stop making laws to break ouf voice and our liberty. It's becoming awkward to live in such a society.

My channel is 4Kids but not lu

Yes my content is made for kids and teens and everyone for all ages

What if we don’t agree on it

Why is there so much rules on yt I can understand some of them

My videos is not made for children.

So I like dark humor, but not too nuch. Is that ok for kids cause I don't wanna get sued

What about gaming channel children or adult

This is going to destroy YouTube. There are many animation channels out on YouTube that's intended audience is not children, but children may watch them. There is not a way to properly regulate what children watch and trying to impose new rules and consequences on those who never even intended their content to be viewed by children is a way to ruin small YouTube channels. Personally I was wanting to start up an animation channel, but now I'm not sure about that because even though my content would not be focused primarily on children, I could be punished for saying what my believed target audience is. Saying 'whatever' in a video does not make it childish or primarily focused towards children. Having bright colors or animated characters does not make its target audience children. (EX: DanPlan, Nevercake, ect.) In passing this you are also passing a metaphorical death sentence to both YouTube itself and the small creators within.

Im new youtubers i have some video that i cook and i have children voice is tha also for children

What about a video that includes writing a document?

FTC please reply to this. I would appreciate it. Don't answer with a cut and paste response please. I seen it all. Answer my questions please. From the top of your head.

Do you guys relaize no matter what, children will see personalized ads? Therefore you are only hurting more creators than you could imagine and it is not fair to them at all.

Think about games for example. Your simple Gameplay videos, The Sims, Roblox, Minecraft, Mario, Donkey Kong, Luigis Mansion, Zelda. All of which kids like? Are they now for kids. Because if not, kids will still see personalized ads. still be able to comment. I mean hell, I was playing GTA and Call of Duty at 10 years old. I liked all sorts of games.

Music? Kids of certain age groups like different kinds of music. From Rap, to Country to all kinds of genre. So kids are still going to see personalized ads.

What about kids/teens who do covers of songs and look forward to the comments to get advice on what song they should cover next or what they need to improve on? Is it now for kids. Because it is incredibly unfair to take all the engagement away.

What about channels like CookieSwirlC, Bratayley, KittiesMamma, Yawi Vlogs, Our Family Nest? Are these channels scrwed with all their features now because of this incredibly unfair enforcement? Do you realize how much you are hurting taking away all the engagement a creator can have?

Bottom line, if a parent lets their child use a mobile device unsupervised then that is their problem. Not yours and not youtubes. These enforcements should never apply to channel owners.

How do I open the survey on mobile

Do you have to pay money if you get monitized

I'm a YouTuber that likes to post occasionally videos of his dog. my content isn't directed towards children but it's available for everybody to see. I am not looking for revenue as my channel is nowhere near on the map to even qualify. Since the YouTube studio app does not have an option to mark your content for the general public and not for kids, does this mean I have to mark my pet videos for kids even though no kids watch my channel?

So. I know about this but you see. Im a Minecraft Animator but IM NOT THAT TYPE OF MINECRAFT ANIMATOR THAT ANIMATE MINCRAFT SCHOOL ((NO!)) I only do Stories, Music Video and MEME Animation (Only in Minecraft Version) I know that my content are Kinda Bit A Children Type Of A Video But. SOME OF MY VIDEO ARE TOO EDGY OR DEMONIC OR GORE SUBJECT FOR THE KIDS. And I don't know which one should I GO for?

My video is about cook

How do I set my channel to made for kids

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