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'm happy to see changes and specifications are being made about this COPPA rule.
Other things that need clarifying are such things as the 42k fine, can the fine really be applied to those overseas? Do you have any protection when it comes to not purposefully labelling your content, such as accounts that are pre-Google, hacked accounts, abandoned or forgotten accounts or accounts created by children or creators no longer with us?
I have non monetised accounts that I can no longer access, which are Vlogs and cosplay based, typically aimed at teenagers and adults but I can't access the accounts to make changes. Bots may see them differently. The emails attached to them have been deleted as I was a teenager when accounts were created and I'm now in my 30''s. I hope that there will be some forgiveness for accounts that have shown to not have been logged in to for a long time, instead having dead channels removed to make it easier for the FTC and YouTube to better identify offenders that are current.
As a woman in a part time job, any fines that could be applied to me here in the UK I will never be able to pay. It will make me and my family homeless. With a sister who is special needs. I do hope you consider each persons financial standing in this case. As some people are every day folk living on the breadline as it is with accounts they have forgotten to have even existed. Who know nothing about COPPA and the FTC.
You are willing to listen and I am grateful for that, so please consider not just the current creators but those who haven't had contact with their accounts for years through different reasons. Consider the small accounts who are not monetised and not making money, not collecting data on children by any means.

Foreign-based websites and online services must comply with COPPA if they are directed to children in the United States, or if they knowingly collect personal information from children in the U.S. The law’s definition of “operator” includes foreign-based websites and online services that are involved in commerce in the United States or its territories. As a related matter, U.S.-based sites and services that collect information from foreign children also are subject to COPPA. See COPPA FAQS B.7. https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/complying-coppa-frequently-asked-questions

I'm not children

I’m not

I want to be able to watch and download things that aren't meant for children for myself even if they are carts cartoons I have no children so it won't be an issue

There isn't childs in home. Only my wife. I'm senior

Yes you are absolutely correct how is video notification of video is related to children????

I want to see a meditation video. I am also not a child

We're sorry you aren't enjoying the Childrens.

You please remove these kind of boundaries so that everyone can watch children videos to make other child to see it....
I hope you may remove unnecessary boundaries....

No Children Let ME decide! What is the best REPLACEMENT that IS NOT controlled b the YOU TUBE GODS

My content is for children and this is stupid ,because I can’t upload any videos now.So pls fix this I just don’t know why.

im not a children im 24

IM not a children IM 24

I am not a kid

So why I can click on the notifications bell when I'm not a child am 26 year of age ,you all need to allow people to go freely and the YouTube platform

I am not a child.
I am 20

Yeah. I want things to change. I want a better YT.
What features I would want in this YT:
-No COPPA
-No Ads
-Doesn't need Internet

-No coppa
That would require either massive law changes or youtube to move to another country.
-No Ads
Ads are one of the primary sources of revenue for youtube, so that's impossible
-Doesn't need internet
That's just magic now, as that's literally impossible.

This is for children and not children

I don’t think the no ads or the no internet could ever work.

But we can dream

I’m 43 years old and should be able to add what I want to my playlist

I'm not a child

I’m old woman !! Really I don’t understand why can’t save this video ? If I’m woman

Thank you for protecting our children

This vdo for children

I want to save video ( it’s a kids learning video!) it says I’m restricted!!!!! It’s for kids! Get me out of the

I am not children, I am adult and health care provider

Everyone that is 15 and up should be able to access miniplayer

I make animations but the swear and might contain blood I personally don’t think that’s child proof

I'm way over kid age I'm 29

I am not kid i am 30 year old

im not a child

I'm not a children

I'm not a child

I’m not a child

I am not a children

I am not. Kid anymore I am well over 24 so why am I getting these ad

I m not a children.... I m 30 Yr old

Im am a grandmother

I'm a balloon artist and I was watching to learn a new skill. How do I turn off this so I can get notified?

I am not a child, I am 64 and I would like to be able to shut this child safe program OFF.

I agree with you. they should make it kid safe only IF it contains contents not suitable for children

I'm not children

my chenel some made for kids

I am not children.. I m 23

i'm not a childern i'm 20years old

I am not a kid, I'm 21

My video not for kid

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