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

This is legally important that you listen to what our content creators have to say because millions are not very happy about the incoming changes to the platform. And a $42,000 fine is ridiculous because our content creators will be bankrupt and homeless.

Please take this into consideration and rethink this through, it's affecting our communities and the content creators who've been on the YouTube working very hard.

There has got to be a possible solution to improve these changes.

Can't YouTube just ask for an account sign in with an age selection and block the features for -13 so everyone is left alone and happy

PLEASE consider other viewers who depend on videos to enhance their hobbies and income. I am a pensioner and cannot afford to attend classes. Plus, I live in South Africa so how on earth can I visit classes overseas?!

Watching TV is much more harmful than YouTube videos!

Pls don’t take this rule if you want money get it from parents not us

hi im a 23 year old adult who has been watching youtube from the beginning. these new laws could kill THOUSANDS of jobs and could put some people into poverty. also the rules are way to vauge and undescriptive. please dont enact these laws it will hurt you rather than help. thanks for reading

My Channels are for Adults and children because my videos are not violent and not out of ordinary just an informations about what's going on in the world today especially when it's abnormal but natural ,thanks for understanding please when ever my video is out of children view let me know okay.and God almighty bless you all in Jesus christ name Amen.

Change your law because it to old for this era and the the era is new but the law 20 years old animation is sometimes for adult.

Do you know that youtube kids exist in the world.

You don't know what you are doing to us if you pit the
COPPA rules and FTC we can't do any videos at all
Your going to ruin our internet culture please don't do this! You don't understand what will happen if you add those rules on youtube

Why are you doing this?You will destroy people's job.YouTube will be DONE.Don't you understand that you don't do anything except making it worse?It's not YouTube's fault,it's the parent's fault!THEY bought their children's phones,not YouTube.they aloud their children to do whatever they want! and you destroy YouTube. YouTube did nothing and you still destroy it till there is nothing left.You just want it all destroyed till there is no hope

Why boomers controls this please stop don't do it I want you keep Youtube normal

But what if our channel is "family friendly" YouTube either has options "for kids" Or "not for kids. " There is no "for all ages" Option.

If we just change this up a little bit, this would actually do very good. At its current state, however, this could backfire hard. If we want to keep kids content going, we need to give content creators revenue. Otherwise, they won't be able to make money, and will either shut down or start making more mature content. Kids will most certainly keep watching this, with won't be a win for either side.

YouTube has so many people making videos for a living. Does taking away innocent people's jobs sound okay to you? These innocent people will go into debt because of this. This is not okay.

As much as this tries to clear things up. It is still very vague. What about toy reviews that are aimed at an adult or older audience. These videos aren't or rather, the products/toys in the videos are not aimed at children, nor would children buy them. They even say on the box these products aren't for children ages 15 and under. Also for cartoons, what about anime? Anime isn't always aimed at children.

The language that defines content that falls under "Child Friendly" is far from specific enough and gives a massive grey area to whether a video is friendly or not, depending on the content. Lawmakers need to research the current state of social media and YouTube's platform to better understand how the current language of the law is causing mass panic and is not properly applying to the creators on the platform. Also, YouTube's "Terms of Service" does not allow anyone under the age of 13 to sign-up for the site, so how does this law apply to the individual creators in the first place?

Why is this being done like this, surely there are channels who abuse of their audience demographic but some who are just trying to make a living, this should be put upon the parents not you. Take out COPPA otherwise the consequences will show up

Please Consider to change these rules as most of the youtubers make a living on this youtube platform only. And mention exactly what type of videos will come under made for kids category.

I don’t think the FTC knows that YouTube was never meant for kids because if you go App Store or google play, you’ll see it’s not meant for kids. There’s a thing called YouTube kids, a YouTube for kids. And it’s not YouTube’s fault that they are watching this stuff, it’s the parents fault because they should pay better attention to their children. So this coppa thing is really stupid and it cannot pass. This will wipe out 90% percent of content creators on YouTube. FTC, if you’re reading this, please get rid of this, it’s stupid!

What if the creators simply don’t have the money to pay the fine for a violation?

please can you stop this because creators like me will be destroyed about these decisions

Stop, why you ask? CAUSE JUST PUT IT ON GOOGLE CONTENT CREATORS CAN’T AFFORD A BIG FINE SO JUST STOOOOP!!!!!!!!!!!!

I agree protecting children is important, but this law is vague and extreme. Parents are seemingly being taken out of the responsibility and accountability loop when it comes to monitoring their children and what they watch. Ultimately, the parent is responsible. Maybe parents should be fined instead of content creators.

This really needs more clarification For example I run a small channel showing what myself and my daughter do The intended audience is not children Its aimed at everyone We are a family channel Where is the middle ground here When I started this channel I didnt even give a thought to the age of the audience as YouTube is for over 13 year olds Having said that I am aware under 13s watch YouTube with there parents consent
My channel is not as black and white as over or under 13 Also on the parenting side I would rather my daughter watch appropriate ads aimed at her rather than inappropriate ads that are not child friendly Also I worry that some creators will turn to more of an adult theme and use more bad language which my daughter may come across because of these new rules Coppa is meant to protect children NOT put them at risk Also these new rules takes the consent of parents away What right does the US government have to take away my parenting choices in the UK I personally feel these new rules shows how the US government is over stepping there boundaries Both for creators and parents

Well there goes my animation career on YouTube.

No one is liking where Youtube is going on 2020,please leave us alone,this is our career plus the animators suffer for years to get something on youtube and now this?!
Seriously, leave us alone. If parents are complaining about their kids seeing something "violent" they download Youtube kids but it is, they do not complicate us more with Youtube than it already is.

Iv read these about a hundred times but the question I ask still remains as the content of this subject is vague at best does this cover both monetised and un monetised content. and is their a more descriptive guidelines to follow as this list you currently share is so vague following it would be hard for NASA scientists let alone content creators.

can you please work with these creators this is there lively hood without this they will be out of jobs there content

Please! we kindly ask you to cancel this Coppa law. Because it's going to upset and destroy the creators of YouTube and us on one side

You know that there is a thing called parental controls and youtube kids right or just put a warning pop up saying if your kid is under the age of 13 they should not use this app or something

Please know that alot of thing that kids watch also r what adults watch and sometimes that adults watch the parents let the kids watch so please let the parents block shows if they dont want the kids to watch it.

I feel like these rules will not work and will cause trouble. YouTube was originally meant for 13 and up correct? YouTube kids was made for children and it was the parents choice not to have their kids watch that instead of something that wasn't meant for them. As for appealing to children I'm afraid that will cause just as much trouble as before with parents as anything can appeal to kids but not all of it is meant for kids. There are games kids watch and play that they aren't for them but it still appeals to them because they like it and parents will still get upset and this whole ordeal will probably start all over. I get that you want to protect kids but what it has lead to is punishing hundreds of creators for their content that parents didn't want to keep their children from watching and get upset for not doing their job as the parents. If we have alternative ways of fixing this why are we not using it? I hope you take this into consideration.

I feel that there should be mixed content. It would make things easier.

I understand the reasoning behind COPPA; however, to punish YouTubers with taking away their livelihood is a not the answer. Most of the YouTube content I watch are gaming videos. How are you going to determine which of these is targeted towards children? The age rating on the game? Minecraft? Fortnite? GTA? Who decides?

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.

What about content that isn't directed toward children like for example like M rated video game reviews and or other content such as
E rated video games that apply for everyone of all ages.
Also please update your laws we are not in the stone age with the internet as we once were.
Which I do understand the FTC is just trying to help children which no one here is against such regulations.
But there is some music and games that do appeal to such bigger audiences and this needs to be addressed better.
Thank you have a nice day

My channel is directed towards child audiences,
however, most of my viewers have lied about their ages to get accounts on YouTube so they are registered as adults in the system. In this situation, will I be fined if I mark my channel as aimed at children?

Does the COPPA rule goes for gaming channels that deals with different variations of games too?

What about the videos with parents and kids showing places like amusement park which is adult and kids much see it ?

As a citizen and voter, I do not agree with this sort of heavy handed regulation of internet content. I support a free and open internet, where those who are using the internet to do wrong are pursued and punished. Someone who mis-tags content that might interest children is not a wrongdoer, but is engaging in free speech. FTC risks having its authority stripped by Congress, or struck down by the courts, through such heavy handed actions.

This needs to be stopped. Really, do not do coppa on YouTube. Please, on December 10th, a day after the comment deadline, post saying you won’t do this rule! No one will be stressed then. Imagine getting a 42k fine on many videos. Someone will be so stressed, you do not know what can happen. Their are no benefits, whatsoever, but many risks. Please do not do this. Millions of people want this to be stopped.

Personally I think in regard to this law it should be more of a warning first. Like contact that company/youtube content creator/etc. then warn them and give them a set amount of days to correct the infraction (After pointing out what that infraction is). Then they correct the mistake contact the FTC and be like hey we fixed the problem. FTC looks at it again and then says okay or no there's still an issue here. Then if it's not fixed in the allotted time punish them.

A large number of content creators are worried. The blanket definitions of what could be directed towards children are beyond ridiculous. I understand COPPA applies everywhere, not just youtube. However, speaking of youtube specifically, creators have been encouraged for years now to make their content "family friendly". So now there are thousands of channels that will basically be forced out of business because since their content is directed at children and adults alike, they will lose up to 90% of their ad revenue. Here's an idea. How about parents having some responsibility in raising their children if they're so worried about privacy? Better yet. How about deny information gathering except on age verified sites? Fining a creator because someone else used their video to collect information about people who choose to watch it is immoral, unethical, and just plain idiotic. How about going after the businesses that collect, store, and use information about children? Those are the people that are actually committing the offense. We're just entertaining people. We have no control over who watches our videos.

I do have a question about this. What if your video has only one curse word in it. Is it still made for kids?

There is no reason for you to do this. Please reconsider this its very stupid.

Hello, I would like to adress this issue that has risen. I am fully aware that Youtube has made a mistake, but that dose not mean we, as the content creators, should parish. We were not aware of what Youtube did before this. We were on the site, Youtube, to make fun content for people young and old. Youtube also has a kids app for the vewing of kids, but Youtube, not the kids app, is rated for teenagers and up. Therefore me and the rest of the community would like to say, please do not apply this to us, the creators, and if you do, please don't be so vauge. Thank you for reading and for your time.

This really doesn't help as it is far too vague. We need to know, in explicitly certain terms, that content that is for general audiences WILL NOT be in danger. The types of content that need to be safe because they are for all audiences are, but not limited to: video games channels, animation channels, channels that use animated characters, arts and craft channels, lego channels, toy channels, unboxing channels, collectibles channels, 3D art channels, tutorial channels, trick shot channels, etc. If there is ANY doubt as to if the content is for general audiences or not, it's better to rule it to be for general audiences than to punish an innocent person.

The problem with this whole thing is that content creators are being punished for what YouTube did. We are not at fault and SHOULD NOT be held accountable for the wrongdoing of YouTube. Content creators are not the ones collecting data on people therefore we SHOULD NOT be considered to be operators of the site. It falls squarely on YouTube to follow your rules as they are the ones collecting data, not us.

YouTube is also making it harder for content creators by not giving us a general audiences option when we upload content. We know our content better that YouTube or the FTC does because we know who the audience is.

If you truly want to protect children, then outlaw the use of cookies. Outlaw the practice of collecting data. Only then can you truly be sure that no private information is being collected and no content creators will be in danger. It's a win for everyone.

Something I forgot in my other comment is the role of the parents.

Content creators ARE NOT responsible for other people's children. If someone is a bad parent and let's their child go online to watch things that aren't for kids, how is that our fault. That's right, ITS NOT. Content creators SHOULD NOT be held accountable for the bad parenting of others.

There must be a positive healthy way for platforms like YouTube conduct business without the need for anyone's data collection and contextualized ads seems to be the best and safest way. It seems to have worked with TV and the internet has the advantage of having shows accessible anytime from virtually any device today. Data collection is dangerous not only for children, especially geolocation information and people's names.

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