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,

Please give us a list of channels (for example 20) so creators can know what COPPA is going to cover.
And also, how can You decide what is made for 12 years old and 15? :)

Dear FTC
I was wondering how I could turn my channel on so it’s not meant for kids,
Also if you do not post on your channel do we still get fined please answers these questions thank you for reading this comment
Sincerely
Anonymous

What If I have a Old channel that fits your description of "being directed towards children". Could I still face fines?

I have two questions. If your channel or video is accidentally labeled as "Made for Adults" and COPPA determines it's made for kids, will you still be fined? Also, if Youtube labels your videos automatically, and you want to change those automatic, is it possible to do so?

YouTube should be mandated to have a separate YouTube platform for kids only and parents should be on board or be accountable for children under 13yrs old having a YouTube account.

This is kind of confused , noo nice at all

Just because a YouTube channel has to do with "bright colors" and partially giving out educational doesn't mean its associated with COPPA

The COPPA act is unfair to youtubers who spend a lot of time to make their videos,
Not all video games are ment for kids 13 years or younger, if you haven’t notice on some games they have an age restriction
Also, not all YouTubers are ment for children under the age of 13, and also maybe parents shouldn’t get mad at YouTube for something their child did, when a child (13 years or younger) watches a YouTuber who’s audience is for 16 years or older
Also for the YouTubers channel is ment for kids age 13 and younger shouldn’t be finded either
YouTube is supposed to be for everyone, why must that be ruined with the COPPA act? Is it really worth it?

With all honestly this whole thing is unfair to the thousands of people on YouTube who just post small videos talking about movies, video games, etc... most of them don't have that kind of money to pay such a ridiculous fine. On top of that the rules are so vague that there's no telling what the ftc is going to classify a video as. I'm also sure that who ever is in charge of this whole thing probably has no idea how you tubers work and make their videos, that's how it always goes. Parenting should be done by the parents. Not the government.

You can see examples of channels the FTC considered to be directed to children in the complaint in the YouTube case.

For example, many content creators explicitly stated in the “About” section of their YouTube channel that their intended audience was children under 13. Other channels made similar statements in communications with YouTube. In addition, many of the channels featured popular animated children’s programs or showed kids playing with toys or participating in other child-oriented activities. Some of the channel owners also enabled settings that made their content appear when users searched for the names of popular toys or animated characters. Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint to see the FTC’s analysis in context.

Use ful information thanks to share info

As a creator, my biggest concern is that my content can be seen as a mix of both. I have young characters and they might appeal to children, but the content and the video itself isn’t for kids. Plus there would be lot’s of creators that want to make there videos just for an older audience, but the video and characters would appeal to children.
I propose that YouTube creators should be able to restrict there video to older audiences no matter what the content; or who the characters might be. By this I mean that if a creator makes a character or uses a character that appeals to children, and the said character is doing a children friendly activity, but the creator does not want children watching there channel. They should be allowed to state that even the one children friendly video is not directed to kids.

You not supposed to do that to youtube you don't Let what about a deal for YouTube what about you can delay the Jan 1 2020 to January 12 2023 ok we will get the money and the 45 million dollars ok promise

Doesn’t this organization realize that google and YouTube are trying to remove the responsibility that they put on there hands on to the community that that has nothing to do with their income methods and vocally protests whenever they put idiotic and anti consumer malarkey

this is very stupid and needs to stop take this down you are making a huge mistake many people's dreams will be destroyed and the suicide rate will take a massive jump.

Man calm down, dont exaggerate!

will inactive channels that haven't been used in 5+ years still be fined even if you don't have the password for the channel or even the username?

How I'm feeling about this situation is I don't know what will happen but not to jump to conclusions. If something bad may happen to one of my favorite channels I've watched over the years. I would feel betrayed after my whole experience of being entertained. Where else are we going to watch and have a good and fun time to experience? If we choose to aim it for kids, what's the point of having NO Likes, Dislikes, No Notifications and No Comments? And if we choose to aim it for adults, does every adult video have to be UNSEEN? What happened with making sure if anyone's 18 or older instead of taking it away. Just because most videos that are for everyone doesn't mean they're always just for kids only. When videos are meant to be for adults, then they are for adults. If videos are meant to be for kids, then they are for kids. And if they are for everyone, then they are for everyone. Which is why I hopefully wish luck on the creators with their efforts they have entertained for us. To create more ideas, to create more videos for the future and make it more easier for the creators to have a better career for them.

Okay, this is a much better approach towards this aspect of the law, but I still believe that the fine is way too much. Many Youtubers have hundreds of videos per channel, now some YouTubers range from 14 (a year above the youtube age limit, so do not worry there) and above, those who are at a younger age (myself included) use Youtube as a way to provide entertainment, now if a 14-year-old child was fined 35,000 dollars for a mis-advertised video they would never be able to pay that off. And if you add onto every video they do plus with all the other YouTubers you may fine for miss advertising, you would break the economy and we would go into another depression. Now, FTC I understand you want to keep children safe, but look at other crimes, some are in the thousands, not the hundred thousand.

Everything else on this bill seems fairly reasonable (besides the ad revenue going down, but that could be fixed with an update to the platform and non0-targeted ads being on the children's channels). This is a much better improvement, good job staff and team that provided this!

Is Minecraft Content "Made for kids"?

YouTube will be destroyed if this continues

Then what was YouTube Kids for!?

I still think this is incredibly vague. WHAT type of animated characters are you talking about? Does anime count as animated characters? And WHAT IS THE AGE OF MODELS?!?! I hate this, I've been getting depression from this ever since.

This makes me feel a little better, thank you for clarifying some vague details from before.

Also, I will say cool and whatever, whenever I want to, youtube has been going on for a long time so why take the creativity away from all of us darnit!!!!!!!

Hey uh, i kinda don't understand this.. What should i do that my channel doesn't get attacked by COPPA?

Please enforce it on youtube that they make a "general audiance" tap. Clearly the FTC are not after creators who do mixed audiance videos and yet youtube has failed to inform us about it. So please enforce this on youtube.

Thank you

Why is COPPA happening because their is a YouTube called YouTube kids so please stop kids can go on YouTube kids and the teens can go on YouTube so please stop COPPA please.....................

What if theres a youtube under 18?
You cant fine under 18s and they probably have no clue what COPPA is.
Thats why I think COPPA should not fine youtubers for that

Keep up the good work FTC. The people complaining about this likely have not seen the disturbing child-directed content this rule is targeting. If everyone knew about the content that has been allowed to exist on YouTube they would gladly suffer a small restriction in their own content creation.

SMALL restriction that if you do the violation gets 35000 dollars in debt. No, nothing wrong with that.

The thing is, this rule was incredibly vague when it first came out, hencing the outburst. The huge list of items that you could get fined for because it's child friendly.

Please, do not allow this rule to continue unchecked. The requirements are extremely vague and parents should be paying attention to what their children are watching online! Parents must parent themselves! That famous phrase "it takes a village to raise a child" should not be a thing.

What do I do if my videos are for ALL ages?

Thanks for the clarification. It seems my content is safe.

Unclear criteria and broad brush categorization is not helpful. Animation software content provider confused how to comply. We make 3d content for expensive professional animation software and use youtube to demonstrate methods and created animation art and the content is not directed at children, however it will be appealing to some children. It seems unfair that our publications reach and feedback be inhibited with the COPPA restrictions.

This rule is too broad and doesn’t take the complexities of the real world into consideration. There is a lot of content created now a days that is meant for both children and adults, or includes something like toys, but is aimed at an adult audience. The FTC has to do a better job. Until it can, they should keep out of regulating content. Leave content meant for the ENTIRE family alone.

Hello! I am a bit confused here. As EVERYTHING ‘appeals’ to children. All videos. TV shows and commercials too. Walk inside the grocery store and see how-everything appeals to kids there... So let me understand this, YouTube messed up, agreed to pay a fine, but it’s now being taken out on us? We have NO control on how data was collected. We can’t control parents. It’s not our jobs. Look just scratch the entire darn platform. I’m over it!

This rule is taking away the funding for some of my favorite YouTubers, they will not be able to fund new videos and they will not be able to support themselves. It will negatively affect them as individuals, content creators, and us as viewers.

I worry that the crochet , sewing, homesteading, gardening videos I watch daily will be affected by this. These channels teach different things that could appeal to children, but are not made for children. I started crocheting and sewing at 9 years old, so I could see that would appeal to some. I don't find these videos harmful to children at all. It's teaching a skill that is useful. To put the pressure on content makers instead of the parents is not right in my eyes. Parents need to be held responsible for what their children watch. As a parent I didn't let my children watch certain TV shows, and none were allowed a phone until 16 years of age. None had access to a computer except at school. Which made it hard when teachers gave homework that involved using the computer. I controlled which movies they saw and so on. Content makers are not here to make sure your child doesn't watch their videos, that is the parents job. So to fine the content makers is wrong on so many levels. There needs to be a box for content makers to check that this video is geared towards adults. To much left in the unknown area.

It is the parent's responsibility to manage what their kids are watching. Not the content creators. This is a prime example of things never being the parent's fault, but someone else's. This is not how this should be handled.

Please stop this
I don't want my favoriye channel gone over night

I mean, if YouTube Kids exists and parents choose to use YouTube over Kids, then it's their fault. At least tell YouTube to fix and patch up YouTube Kids. One suggestion may be to have YouTube only available to people who have an account, and have guests only given the ability to see child-friendly videos. Hope you take account into all our suggestions.

Please just remove this. This will be terrible for all of youtube and achieve the opposite thing you want to happen. On behalf of literally everyone on youtube or watch youtube. TAKE DOWN THIS RULE

I believe that this COPPA thing is really unfair to YouTube content creators and to all their viewers
Lots of popular YouTube channels make people laugh and help people through some really tough times and even cure depression, I know that from experience
If the viewers lose their favourite YouTube channels then some depressed fans may lose hope and feel even worse

Watch YouTube for an hour, then go back to read what was wrote in COPPA. Innocent and even helpful people's Lives depend on not implementing COPPA. YouTube has already taken step to prevent the worries in this.

Parents should be the ones responsible for what kids see and do on youtube, not the content creators.

Sooo how long will “COPPA” last, will It be forever?

This is stupid. Plain and simple.

it is not youtubes fault that kids use the app for grown-ups, thats why theres youtube kids, please ftc think about what you are doing

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