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

I think what should be focused on is the protection of children, first and foremost. Secondary to this would be clarification of the regulations to do just that. No, it's not the content creators' responsibility, nor should it be their punishment, that those recognized as children would potentially watch videos that are not "marked for children". I think a system should be created and enforced that places the responsibility and consequences back on the parents. (maybe something along the lines of being able to trace IP addresses back to internet accounts, or something to that effect.) I also believe that a separate system within video supporting platforms that allows the options of uploading videos to either "target specific ads" sites and "non-target specific ads" sites.

What about toy reviews not targeted toward children? Nothing to especially appeal to kids, but the video is about a toy, such as an animal figurine? A video to show the figurine's merits, shortcomings, and how realistic it is? Many teens and adults do select such figurines. What about a video about customizing said figurine; again nothing kid-directed, but still about customizing a toy? Many adults and teens customize model horses, for example, as well. What is the difference between a video made for an 11 or 12 year old, and one made for a 13 year old? Is there any way to change a video to make it less kid-directed, without swearing or similar activities? Would saying at the beginning of the video that it is not intended for children help if it's one of the boarderline videos? What are "characters, activities, games, toys, songs, stories, or other elements that are particularly appealing to children?" Can we please get a long list of examples to get a better feel for it? Could the FTC give examples of how it would categorize less obvious videos, other than nursery rhymes and such? It isn't fair to creators to give them such vague instructions, and then give them a choice between destroying their channel or risking a huge fine.

Targeted ads for children seems pretty harmless to me, since they dont actually have an income, so any purchases done based on the ads, are being funded by the parents. The same parents who allowed their children to use the normal Youtube... So this is like parents stabbing themselves, but the knife company being held responsible.

i just want to my channel safe,,,how to do,,,i don’tkno,,, please do something

h coppa needs to be rewritten, youtube kids exists, i dont want to be a box for any longer and i want my vibrant colors back

I don't want the kids mode

Neither do I. Bc some of my favorite youtubers are now covered by this and I browse while watching their videos. YT calms me down when I'm crying but now bc of kids mode I cant browse while watching, and it's gonna take longer for me to calm down bc of it

My video not for kids

When is the coppa law happening? I know it's this month in January, but when in January?

If you add its not suitable for kids , do you still have to put it in the thumbnail or at the start? Because im still not sure on what to do if i go on youtube studio and make it not suitable for kids. Will i get sued for not making it in the thumbnail or can 13 and unders not be able to get on my videos??

Kids can watch it too

Can you still make money off of YouTube if you designate your videos to kids?

If you designate your content to adults, will kids be able to view it?

I would like to set my YouTube child policy back into the mix

Good joob

Thx for your help

I was just watching an episode of the haunting hour I noticed the comments section was turned I was just a little curious as to why the comments section was turned off

Good evening I João Pedro Pinheiro Barbosa as an adult do not accept block me in my subscriptions, comments, etc. please solve my problem

If i swear on some of my videos should i change my chanell to not be for childern?

What is the problem of my you tube channel sir...

Thanks for all of you

You ruined youtube

My YouTube channel is not for kids

My video it's for kids and for adultes because fortnite it's for full yeard old

Not for chilldren

My name is Rory Mccann and I’m 19 years old and this made for kids thing is blocking me from making any comments on my YouTube account so can You think about that children ages 18+ Have the right and freedom to make comments about the videos they watch as long as they don’t get too inappropriate like pornographic comments cuz the type of comments I type are completely legal and they don’t offend anyone so please reconsider this made for kids thing at least let it include a age setting system or something please

I don’t think that’s such a good idea, I like the way YouTube is.

Not coppa January 15

What about animators who animaré for fin and their content IS NOT directed to children?? What happened to YouTube Kids?? Did they realized that children where lying about their age when creating an account??

YouTube kids is for kids

Almost every video on YouTube contradicts with one to all of the guidelines listed on this page., we need simple rules that all of us can follow.

YouTube needs guidelines and simple rules

This question may be stupid, but can I turn the COPPA rule off? I'm not a child anymore and neither a parent. I mean, I get the point of it but the only thing that's bothering me is that when you are listening for example to a Disney song and minimize the window, it automatically stops.

The rules are very vague on what’s kids content and what isn’t. If you label your channel as not for kids than why are you still covered by coppa. Just because kids play games doesn’t mean that only kids play games. Adults like things that kids like because it gives them joy. Labeling your channel for kids is basically a death sentence as the channel labeled under kids content will basically become a ghost and will lose 90% of Ad revenue which is insane as almost every single channel on YouTube uses YouTube as a job and only source of income. YouTubers don’t even have control over if kids watch their content or not. When you also label your channel kid friendly comments are disabled which prevents improving your channel to become better. I know you guys at FTC are reevaluating the rules to suit the current generation as you probably saw the comments about the rules being put of touched and a thank you for that. I just want to point out the flaws with this law and the changes as if they stay the same currently a lot of people will lose their jobs and will go homeless and you guys probably don’t want another homeless crisis. Also tell YouTube to put in a general audience option as most videos are made for every one, not just adults or just children. If this law is done right it could probably help YouTube but the law in its current state won’t last until the middle of 2020. Also one last thing make sure clickbait YouTubers are covered buy this law because they’re also making money off of a child’s gullibleness. Thank you for reading my comment.

You're right. A lot of channels I've subscribed are marketed as kids content, but I'm adult and I'm watching that stuff. And most of the viewers of those channels are adults not children

I don't make things "for kids". Stop forcing my channel to lie. My content is for me.

Thanks for yotube

The videos I make are very simple-minded, and will not affect the minds of children and people in general. I believe it

I have seen lots of videos that are marked as 'created for kids' but the videos have a serious topic, what can I do so as to Say a video is not for kids?
In my case, the videos are related to the carnivals of my city, that is to Say, something cultural and adults are more interested on ir, but as on the videos very colourful clothes are used, you say ir is for kids.

This Not Made for Kids and ok

I don’t and can’t find anything that addresses my channel. My channel is for all ages, like 0-150yrs old. My channel is my dogs channel and we keep it family friendly... no profanity, Nudity, sexual contents , but it also does have toys or cartoons. We have people of all ages watching their channel, so how do I classify it? Youtube/google or whatever company replies, don’t copy past a long technical answer, just lay it out flat and simple, like others that asked you to but you didn’t listen. This is stupid that like someone else said, we have to pay the price for what the CEO’s did

My videos is content for childrens

Explain to me exactly what I'm supposed to do if my videos could be considered "for kids" but I don't make them for kids, I don't like kids, and I don't want them watching my stuff or even existing on the internet at all.

Please i can't comment on my videos because there not kid related videos that i post

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