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.



It's intentionally vague; Google wants to appease the FTC and is making YouTube the sacrifial lamb

Activities that children would most likely do let’s say for example, if a child or kid wants to listen by reacting to the music. They would listen to music appropriate for children or kids unlike music that is not for kids.

Talking about video games or animals, or saying the words "cool" according to official guidelines. Also LITERALLY any videogames, regardless of rating, according to the current writing of the law.

It means that children are appealed to certain activities, like playing, being goofy, etc.

I had looked up a list of activities that usually appeal to children, and things like basketball, tennis, baseball (those are just some examples) were listed there.
Now that I honestly do not get at all, because those sports aren't just specifically for kids.
So say someone on YouTube has an original animated series that they made, and in one of the scenes, a character is playing basketball.
That doesn't mean that the whole entire series is classified as 'for kids' just because of that one scene.

Honestly in my opinion, more research should be done when putting these new policies into place.
Like, it can't just be one or the other when sorting these things into categories
A lot of content on YouTube is in a sort of regard where it isn't specifically directed at kids, but not at adults either.

Say for instance, videos of people playing Nintendo games.
Nintendo is known for developing and releasing 'family-friendly' games.
But that doesn't mean that the games are ONLY directed at kids.

I'm kind of going on a tangent here, but I hope what I'm trying to say is understandable...

Animated characters count towards Child-Directed content... Okay, that just doesn't work because most animations are mature! The prime example I can use right now is the Pilot for a animated series called "Hazbin Hotel" which is a video that contains animated characters, but the content is FAR from being child friendly.

Unless you're actively going through every single point you mentioned instead of basing it off one, this is NEVER going to work! What's going to happen, as I've stated before, is the content on Youtube will become so adult focused that no child will be safe on the platform as there will be no content that would be directed to them! So essentially, you're going to be the sole reasons why Youtube will likely become dead in 2020!

Why not impose a tax on child content, then everything can go back to normal, instead of shutting down channels

How about fining the parents that can't control their kids? YouTube has kids site. It seems like the FTC can just fine anyone when they want with these vague rules. Again as usual with most things you don't hold the parent's accountable for the actions of their kids. Can a creator sue the parents if a kid comes onto our page when it is clearly marked Adult Only?

what would it look like then? I also upload movies on YT - mainly gameplay, unfortunately I don't have age statistics, maybe because I have less than 100 subscribers?

You need to stop doing

The list of rules provided is too vague and needs more details. Otherwise I am very confused as to what they are supposed to mean.

For example:

-Please specify what "visual content" is safe for children and what "visual content" is not. It is stated that you realise a cartoon character isn't automatically made for kids so please provide more details on what "visual content" is appropriate for certain ages.

-Please specify "the kind of music or other audio content" that is suitable for kids and "the kind of music or other audio content" that is not. What makes a piece of music not suitable for kids? Is it the genre? Is it the melody? Is it the lyrics themselves? Please provide more details.

-Please specify "the age of models" that appeals to children by giving an age range.

-What does "language or other characteristics of the site" mean? Please provide more details.

While I understand the new thing the FTC are doing, I still have a problem. What about those who have gaming content or play games that kids play, but the content is pointed towards a more mature audience? Like if the game is pointed toward all ages, but the content in which the creator makes is pointed to a mature age. Would they still be safe like certain animation channels or will they be flagged as only children content too?

Can we just not have this coppa stuff? Just let the creators be free and let parents be parents, fine the parents imagine how much money u could make then.

That's coming too! If kids are on main YouTube without parental consent the third party IP tracker's trace you back to your ISP and ten your parents get sued for you (a kid on YouTube" YouTuber's millions have been made off the grooming and manipulation of kids... specifically under 13yrs old

Yeah coppa has to ruin all fun basically coppa is just mean and I agree with you

Well, the whole point of COPPA is basically online parenting for kids whose parents can't parent. COPPA was created to keep the bad stuff from children.

It is not keeping children safe to eradicate child friendly content. It will only make it easier for children to find adult oriented content. It is a parent's job to discipline their children, not the government.

I am really unclear on what is happening with animators/ GachaLife

Unfortunately, COPPA needs to happen so that YouTube and Google can't collect any more data illegally. The problem from the start has been the vague descriptions of what's going on and what changes are being made, but now as you can see they have clarified on much of the confusion. The content creators can still have the freedom to make whatever content they want. They simply need to let YouTube, and in turn the FTC, who it is their videos are intended for and if they are "intended for children" they simply have to make sure they don't cross the line.

This isn't correct. When a YouTube video is marked as "for kids," it will lose 90% of monetization, be hidden from search results and recommended sections, and no longer appear in sub boxes. Your video essentially becomes unlisted. And why should it be YouTube and YouTubers' job to police who watches what? If a child is on YouTube, it is with parental permission. That is not the fault of YouTube or the creators. If parents are that worried about data collection, then don't let your kids on sites that collect data. Just because a rule says it's "for the children" doesn't make it good or necessary. This is hurting more people than it's helping.

Are you kidding - fining the PARENTS? Fine nobody! Coppa is stupid and should be stopped immediately. SO MANY YOUTUBERS ARE IN DANGER BECAUSE OF THIS STUPID RULE! So many people quitting, stopping making videos, heck, MOVING TO TIKTOK OF ALL PLACES, and you try to fine the PARENTS? Parents have nothing to do with this - Coppa has to be stopped, without fines!

Sorry, just had to burn off some steam

No. While yes this coppa thing is ridiculous, they should not fine parents for anything. This will just create more controversy and the FTC does not want that. Just because this thing can earn money with the FTC, it is not advised to fine the people that chose to have children.

I so agree with you, I hate to think I will not be able to watch all my favorite craft videos on YouTube, because parents can't parent their children.

will setting my channel to mix audience affect my monetization?

if it's made for kids, yes. you'll lose 70 - 90% ad revenue...

No I don’t think so

Yes. If one of your videos is marked “For kids” then you will lose all targeted ads on that video, meaning you will make 80-90% less ad-revenue on that video.

there is no mixed audience option in youtube

THANK YOU very much, I am not a child. No CHILDREN in my HOME

I understand that companies like Google and YouTube can target children and take advantage of children and their personal information but i don't agree that the channels of YouTube are also restricted for it.
Some i understand but most of it, example: My friend is also a YouTuber but knowing the rules currently listed above I'm worried about her channel. Her channel consists of cartoon characters that she made herself from a application that is called "Gacha world". Since it falls into the category of cartoon characters i fear that she'll be needing to give money to the FTC when she's not old enough to work as yet.
So if you're able to.
Please make it more reasonable for content creators.
Thank you

You fools don’t you know what have you done you canceled the YouTube miniplayer we all need the miniplayer on youtube

As a disabled content creator this hurts because content creators should not be responsible for what kids watch and what they don’t, we shouldn’t be punished for something a child watches. I upload gaming content because it’s an outlet for me and it’s incredibly fun, I shouldn’t have to determine if it’s suitable for kids. I understand the seriousness of this but please don’t punish us content creators whether we have large channels or small channels like mine. I ask you to reverse this and give YouTube the option to quit getting info on kids. Thank you, Crippled Gaming.

This is ridiculous, it's not the creators on YouTube's fault that parents don't watch their kids.

This isn’t about rather parents watch their kids or not.
No. Some channels make it clear that their videos is for audience below the age of 13.

YouTube broke a COPPA law by taking data from children under the age of 13.

Which creators are now required to not make videos that is made to get a child attention on a site made to take data. As long as people don’t make obvious kids videos or are trying to reach a child audience only,than not many creators have to worry.

Yes it sucks that channels who makes good child content will lose their job but as long as YouTube continues to collect data and there’s no way for parents to give consent when creating an account/age confirmation and block child content from account who doesn’t give consent ,than creators have to follow the law.

This isn’t helping anyone, honestly, the law should change, people are gonna lose their jobs, Kids are gonna lose their favorite people, i mean YouTube isn’t just “a platform”, no, this is YOUTUBE we’re talking about, I don’t know if we’re both seeing the same thing here but, let’s be honest, YouTube is run by mostly bots, so what if someone just gets $40,000 Even though they followed the rules. I’m trying to be as civil as i can about this but, don’t do Coppa, please. And if you were to think about this, don’t not do coppa for anyone but the peoples lives you’re about to destroy.

I'm glad that now content creators know this now and wont be scared to post a video!

What the heck? This rules might as well cancel google and YouTube in itself.

they would be more scared than ever

Actually, seeing this made me delete all my videos.

Please consider to take down this rule. We understand you want to ensure the safety of kids. But this rule can destroy the lives of many innocent content creators like myself who uploads for fun. Instead, you should warn parents to look out for their kids. There's already "YouTube kids" out there. Children should have enough protection already unless the parents are responsible for their information leak. Please consider. Spare us.

Finally someone with common sense

Please! Even though I live in another country, ( and not a youtuber ) I don't want this mess.

There needs to be made an option for this!

this sucks just make a parental controls what is the point of this.

I agree with this. There could be a parental control setting instead so if parents want their kids to only watch kid friendly videos it wouldn't be much of a problem.

isn't there already a Restricted Mode? if YouTube can't make YT Kids work, why doesn't it just tweak Restricted Mode so kids only see videos that are marked as "directed towards children". tho in order for this to properly work, it'd have to stop auto-marking certain videos as "directed towards kids" unless the channels specifically say they're geared towards kids. might work. hopefully it wouldn't have as much backlash as COPPA seems to be getting

Thank you for your clarification on COPPA's guidelines and how it will affect youtube. I would only like to request some clarification on what defines child-oriented pastimes. Namely, whether video games as a whole are under this umbrella, and if so, I would object to that decision. Video games are a wide category played by any and all age groups, and even games that are rated E for Everyone by the ESRB, and thus child-friendly, are not played by only children. Furthermore, just because a game is child-friendly does not mean that the commentary is also child-friendly. To use myself as an example, my youtube channel is purely recreational and not monetized, nor will it ever be, and my target audience is my friends in the same age group as myself - late 20s-early 30s. Sometimes my uploads include E-rated, very child-friendly games, but I will often interject profanity out of excitement or frustration, thus not being child-friendly myself. I trust the FTC to consider these circumstances for my channel and other channels, but I wish this context be known for the purposes of definition and not categorizing all gaming youtubers into the same group.

I'm in a similar boat. Further communication by COPPA or YouTube is needed.

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. Read pages 10-14 of the YouTube complaint to see the FTC’s analysis in context.


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