I’ve written this article multiple times, and it isn’t because I don’t feel confident enough on the subject (I’m not) or it isn’t important. I want to make sure the information I’m providing is the most up-to-date and factual. My personal interest in COPPA is because I’m an avid gamer, content creator, and a parent. The fear mongering that surrounds COPPA is increasing and a significant amount of YouTube’s community is looking for someone to blame. What I’m providing is a foundation for helping those looking for answers a general big picture of the situation. Who should you trust? Why should COPPA matter to you? What are the implications? Who can I blame? These are some questions I will answer for you. Try to stay with me because it will be a long journey.

The over simplified summary

After a landmark lawsuit for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) & the New York attorney general, YouTube agreed to a settlement that required them to make changes the platform. The alleges YouTube was in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) when it collected personal information from users under the age of 13. YouTube is requiring all content creators on the platform to label the audience of their videos and channels “made for kids” or not. For content creators focused on family, kid-oriented pieces the labeling comes with perimeters that could see their businesses failing.

YouTube is working closely with the FTC to prevent any losses but haven’t released a definitive roadmap. The one solution YouTube has implemented alongside a new upload process is a new machine learning algorithm that will scour countless hours of videos to detect if it is kid-oriented content. No one at this moment has any idea on how effective the algorithm will become but YouTube recommends that all creators manually go over their content. YouTube doesn’t want to be liable for any violations of COPPA and expects creators on the platform to understand the risks that come with the new rules.

What happened?

On September 4th, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined YouTube $170 million in a settlement with the New York attorney general for allegedly collecting children’s data which violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). COPPA is a 21-year-old U.S. federal law passed in 1998 that requires parental consent before collecting data and sharing data from children under the age of 13. Because of the settlement, YouTube is changing their platform to comply within the perimeters set by the FTC under COPPA.

2019 FTC Press Conference

How is YouTube Changing Their Platform?

In late December 2019, YouTube rolled out an update to the video upload process to help creators designate whether their content was “made for kids” or not. Included in the video process update was a new option provided to channel owners asking them to set their audience channel wide. Going forward YouTube will require all content creators to go through their libraries to set the audience or YouTube will automatically do it for them. It is very important now to be aware of the options YouTube is providing during the upload process because it can have a massive effect on the activity of your content. Review everything.

"Made For Kids" or Not

What happens when you choose “made for kids”?

To put it bluntly, YouTube has created a complete cluster for themselves with this. Multiple creators have expressed that once their work is “made for kids” the content will become non-existent on the platform. Making content directed towards children or having content perceived as for children (unless marked correctly) will become a death sentence for come creators complying with COPPA. YouTubers are rightfully expressing their fears of losing revenue and viewership that they’ve worked to achieve. Marking your videos “made for kids” comes with a list of features disabled once published.

Disabled Features

  • Comments
  • Personalized Ads
  • Info Cards
  • End Screens
  • Stories
  • Community Tab
  • Notification Bell
  • The ability for viewers to save videos
  • The ability for viewers to add videos to “watch later”
  • The ability for viewers to save the videos to a playlist

How does taking away these features benefit the creator? How do they get a sense of safety knowing their usual ways of communication are being cut off? YouTube tries to answer these questions and more in a recent COPPA Q&A video. The video talks about plans for making revenue, gaining viewers, marketing, and what YouTube allows to be published.

Features Impacted By COPPA: Made for Kids Content

COPPA and YouTube: Answering Your Top Questions

What is “made for kids” content?

“Made for kids” is open subjectively by definition. I may view kid’s content as the earworm Baby Shark, Cartoon Network shows, educational videos, etc. Those feel very self-explanatory and it makes sense. With the rules being implemented the FTC is allowing the definition for “made for kids” to be broader in order to cast a larger net. The criteria set for YouTube will come down to the discretion of both YouTube & the FTC to decide what falls in this category.

YouTube “Made for Kids” Criteria:

  • Subject matter of the video (e.g. educational content for preschoolers).
  • Whether children are your intended or actual audience for the video.
  • Whether the video includes child actors or models.
  • Whether the video includes characters, celebrities, or toys that appeal to children, including animated characters or cartoon figures.
  • Whether the language of the video is intended for children to understand.
  • Whether the video includes activities that appeal to children, such as play-acting, simple songs or games, or early education.
  • Whether the video includes songs, stories, or poems for children.
  • Any other information you may have to help determine your video’s audience, like empirical evidence of the video’s audience.
  • Whether the content is advertised to children.

This covers only a little of what the content creator needs to comply with. The FTC wants to push it further and have the creator understand that if a child is attracted to your content, then you may be at risk. For the SEO savvy creator that understands YouTube is also a large search engine, the keywords you use that make your videos show up can also put you at risk of not being compliant. Take the time to make sure it labels the correct audience for the content being published. Save yourself the risk of being fined.

Marking “Not For Kids” Doesn’t Protect You – COPPA Update

What happens if creators don’t comply?

By complying with COPPA, YouTube is stating that all content creators are their own entities and should recognize that anything published on their platform is now solely the creator’s responsibility for understanding COPPA covers. This means that any creators caught violating COPPA will face penalties of up to $42,530 per posted video. A fine that high per video could cause your favorite creator to lose their channels completely. The FTC may come out later with adjustments that state the $42,000+ fine isn’t the true amount. It could be a base amount to give everyone an idea of the consequences but with variable revenue from creator to creator, the fine may match the overall income. There isn’t much information on this yet but the best place to stay up-to-date is bookmarking the FTC’s homepage.

Irresponsible parenting caused this!

Irresponsible parenting is not the cause of YouTube’s platform change. YouTube causes YouTube’s problems. The comments that show up in increasing volume from trolls, non-parents, etc. Are there to lay blame and distract from understanding the issues. I’m a strong advocate for educating children to understand what access is appropriate while leaving room for the freedom they want. However, there are many that expect parents to spy 24/7 on what their child is doing. It isn’t possible even with how advanced we are technologically. The social platforms are not locking themselves up to keep away potential underage eyes from what is going on. They can have as many disclaimers and policies that state they have age restrictions for content but that does nothing.

Social media doesn’t exist to make things harder for those searching for answers. Social media exists to bridge a wide communication gap and feed our ever increasing hunger for instant gratification. If this was 100% preventable, then we wouldn’t have to discuss it. COPPA and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) exists to give us awareness about what digital entities are accessing when we visit their content. YouTube has done a terrible job of providing information about what they’re accessing not only to parents but also content creators. Pointing the finger doesn’t fix the issues YouTube keeps finding themselves in. Lets come up with solutions instead of looking for the exit through blame.

Useful Links

How To Block YouTube With Screen Time on iPhone and iPad
YouTube Kids: Google Play and Apple App Store
YouTuze Pro Kids for YouTube Parental Control (My recommendation for absolute control): Google Play
BlockTube (Firefox Browser Extension)

What happens next?

Creator’s Dilemma

What has to happen next is content creators must come together to engage their audiences about COPPA. YouTube’s COPPA problems won’t go away by clicking on an option during the video process. The enforced policies of COPPA has been in effect for almost a month and is already causing major disruptions for particular creators. Kid’s creators are losing their revenue streams from how YouTube is deciding to interpret COPPA and it will only get worse as they search for a perfect solution. With no clear roadmap from YouTube I’m genuinely scared for creators. YouTube paid their fine to the FTC and now creators are liable for the damage they caused. Having videos accurately labeled in the system is a great feature that should’ve been there to help separate the platform from kids and the general audience. 

Creators are getting the horrible end of the stick because YouTube decided for 7 years to ignore the recent changes to COPPA that were made in 2013. This means for 7 years, YouTube knew what the FTC expected of them and had time to come up with a sensible solution for creators to not suffer. YouTube for 7 years actively took personal information in order to serve personalized content from web cookies while telling everyone they were only for viewers 13 and older. Technically, if you think about it YouTube is still pulling that data illegally under COPPA to this day for anyone visiting even if they’re not logged in. Instead of fixing this problem they’re letting it all fall on the creators themselves. Why? Where are the protections for creators? What will be done to help those losing revenue? We have thousands of questions with no public answers. 

YouTube’s New Algorithm

YouTube’s algorithm is changing and the only ones that have a clear idea on how that will affect creators is YouTube. The information that we have is that the new algorithm being implemented is machine learning based that will determine whether the content is for kids. This solution is vague and opens up a world of issues for content being published. What happens when the system automatically approves content that isn’t safe for children? What happens when the system flags content that is acceptable? What are the pre-determined perimeters being introduced to the algorithm? How often is it going to update? Will there be a real support staff available to fix any issues that arises? I’m one of those that want to know more because YouTube’s solution will not fix the problems with COPPA compliance. If you want educated creators to help improve the system, then you need to give them access to valuable data. At this moment YouTube is silent and they should worry you because the platform is rapidly changing for some to keep up.

My Parental View

As a parent, I was really excited to hear about YouTube complying with COPPA. I thought YouTube was finally taking responsibility for what they were ignoring but YouTube is side-stepping so content creators are in the crosshairs. What type of protection is that? For everyone glaring at me because they read about my excitement must understand how hard it is to navigate YouTube with a child. You shouldn’t be on it because YouTube isn’t for kids? Please tell that to all the creators that focus on kids content to reach a larger audience to sustain their careers. Say it to the large multimedia studios that jumped quickly to get their product out there to the youngest audience possible because that clout matters. It is hard to keep children away from guaranteed, instant access to content they want the most. I’ve tried and without fail they’re able to get what they’re looking for. I have no issue in my kid using YouTube provided that the content being presented is actually for them.

COPPA is only setting perimeters for the surface level cleanup but YouTube is the one that needs to dig deeper to fix their growing problems. I’ve spent days reporting, blocking, and pulling my hair out over parodies of popular kids’ characters committing lewd acts. The content recommended by YouTube’s system ranging from sex to instructions on suicide. Why don’t you go to YouTube Kids? YouTube Kids is great if you want a curated experience towards larger well-known brands. YouTube is stepping into the right direction for creating personal collections for children but other apps exist that do that while giving them absolute freedom. Why doesn’t YouTube just enforce the age limit they keep touting to everyone? Making visitors sign in before seeing content on their homepage would solve a ton of their issues. They won’t because that is data they can continue taking through cookies so their advertisers can walk away happy each month. At some point the dam has to break and some real change will happen. I really want things to get better. 

Final Thoughts

I advise everyone to get active in this discussion because it will directly affect them sooner than they think. YouTube won’t sit still until they feel like they’re handling the problem in the manner they seem fit. I don’t know what that means for creators or the platform but Google doesn’t have a great track record for keeping certain beneficial features going while going through changes. Go watch the provided resources and voice your concern directly at YouTube. Hell, voice some of your concern at the creators that don’t feel the need to talk about COPPA because they feel they’re safe. Implementing a system that needs to be compliant after ignoring it for 7 years means the system really needs to be critiqued by everyone. It is vital for you to get and stay educated on what is happening because it could shift to other platforms in different forms of regulation.

Additional Resources

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Complying with COPPA: Frequently Asked Questions
Complaint for Permanent Injunction, Civil Penalties, and Other Equitable Relief (FTC / New York Attorney General Case PDF)
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule: A Six-Step Compliance Plan for Your Business

You’re Wrong About COPPA (Real Law Review)

Hoeg Law
LegalEagle’s Wrong About (Parts of) COPPA: On Age Gates, Mixed Audiences, and YouTube (VL146)

This Is How COPPA Will Destroy YouTubers…(It’s Really Bad)
YouTube Is Saved! (COPPA GOOD NEWS)
What YouTubers Should Really Be Scared Of…(It’s Not COPPA)
COPPA Is Finally Here

The Game Theorists
Game Theory: Will Your Favorite Channel Survive 2020? (COPPA)

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