In November of 2019,  YouTube published a video that alerted all YouTube creators to how the site would be handling children’s video content and what content creators would need to do to comply with the changes. The video created quite a bit of controversy among YouTube creators, much of which you can read in the comments below the video. YouTube published the video in response to being fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for collecting data on children under the age of 13, which is a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 6501–6506), more commonly referred to as COPPA.  

What is COPPA?

COPPA is not new and has been in existence since 1998. The intent of the law was to protect children under the age of 13 from having their personal information and data collected by websites and other online platforms. The law includes information on what needs to be included in a company’s online privacy policy; when and how a site might need to obtain consent from a parent or guardian; the responsibility an operator has to protect the privacy of children who use their offering; and restrictions on marketing to children.   The law underwent some revisions in 2011 to clarify what types organizations COPPA applied to and put in place further requirements for privacy policies, parental consent, and maintaining the confidentiality of the information that is collected from children. 

Why all the controversy now?

Last year the FTC brought a lawsuit against YouTube and Google for violating COPPA. The FTC website states 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.”

In September of 2019 the FTC and YouTube agreed to a settlement that required the company to provide a way for channel operators to designate if their uploads are targeted towards children. YouTube now provides two ways to do this: at the channel level or on a video by video basis. While it is primarily the responsibility of the channel creator to do this, YouTube will also be utilizing technology to find videos that may be targeted towards children but are not marked as such. 

What constitutes content that is targeted towards a child audience?  First if your content’s primary audience is anyone under the age of 13, it is considered children’s content. Other criteria that the FTC uses to determine if content is targeted towards children are listed on their website and include:

  • 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.

YouTube states in the video that content targeted towards children will be handled differently.  Some of the major changes are:

  • Comments will not be allowed or available on videos that are considered content for children. 
  • Content created for children will no longer have personalized ads. 
  • Individual videos will no longer be able to have info cards or end screens. 

Content creators are upset for several reasons, but the main ones are potential loss of revenue due to the change in advertising, and lowered content visibility with the loss of comments and the ability save videos to a playlist. According to YouTube ads will still run on children’s videos, but the ads will be based on the video content and theme, and not the user.  If your entire channel contains content for children you will also no longer have access to stories, a community tab, the notification bell, and viewers will not be able to save your videos to watch later or add them to a playlist. 

What do you need to know?

Your first stop should be to view the video YouTube released in November which you can find here: Important Update for All Creators: Complying with COPPA.  

If you have further questions YouTube also released a second video, COPPA and YouTube: Answering Your Top Questions, that covers many of the issues raised by creators after the first announcement was made and has a lot of additional information about how to determine if your content is made for children.  

The FTC's blog has information to guide people through determining if their content is for children or not. 

What happens next?

First, review the information provided by YouTube and the FTC to determine if any of your content is children’s programming. If you are a YouTube creator, you will need to go to your account and change your settings.  If all your content is targeted towards children, you will want to change the settings for your entire channel. This will set all past content to content for children and default to that setting for new uploads. If you post a mix of videos where some are meant for children and some are not, you will need to review your videos and change the settings for your videos individually. You will also be prompted to indicate if your videos are for children or not each time you upload. 

You can find instructions on how to do these settings at both the channel and video level here: Set your channel or video’s audience

Users who don’t update the settings on their channel or videos will risk having their videos blocked if they are found to be children’s programming but are not marked as such. Repeated offenses could cause a user to be banned from YouTube altogether.  YouTube does say that they will have a process in place to file a dispute if your videos or channel are blocked and you believe that to be a mistake. 

While this may seem to be a lot of work, and for those who have a lot of YouTube content that is a mix of children’s and general programming it may indeed take quite a bit of time to make sure you are in compliance, it is important to take the steps you need to so that you can be in compliance with the law and your viewers can continue to enjoy your content. 

© 2020 Music Law Firm

Past articles:

​​YouTube and COPPA: What you need to know.