The settlement in September between the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Google over violations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (COPPA) has left YouTube creators struggling to understand how it might affect their presence on the platform.
For one thing, many are unsure of what the wording in the settlement – that mentions content “directed at children” – actually means, and if it applies to their channel.
The FTC has now published a guidance in the hope of clarifying this point. But the document also reveals some other issues surrounding the new circumstances that creators face on YouTube.
The guidance shows that as far as FTC is concerned, creators are the sole party liable for non-compliance to COPPA rules, leaving Google entirely out of the equation, and treating YouTube channels as “websites.”
“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.”
COPPA rules are designed to protect private data of children younger than 13, and under the settlement, YouTube will obligate channel owners to label their content as “directed at children” when this applies – and then block data collection and with it, targeted ads for these videos, severely demonetizing this content.
But although the FTC states that “COPPA applies in the same way it would if the channel owner had its own website or app” – it ignores the reality of YouTube effectively holding a monopoly over monetization opportunities for videos. In other words, creators who wish to earn a living from their content often have no real choice but to upload it on YouTube, over some other platform.
YouTube: Hey you shouldn't cuss in videos or you'll get demonetized.
Also YouTube: Hey you need to start cussing in your videos otherwise we can deem them 'for kids' and you'll be fined $42,000 per video.
(Look up #COPPA this is kind of happening right now.)
— Daniel Thrasher (@ThrasherDan) November 21, 2019
.@TeamYouTube per #COPPA Title 16 C.F.R. § 312.2, I request that YouTube revise its video-marking system to allow for a "mixed-audience" category. I believe it is SEVERELY unfair to remove channel features and demonitize Creators who make GENERAL AUDIENCE content on YouTube.
— Chadtronic (@Chadtronic) November 23, 2019
I’ve been asked a lot recently about COPPA and how the new ‘for kids’ rules affects YouTubers.
YouTube wants to hand this issue to creators with little to no support.
So I reached out to the FTC Commissioner @CSWilsonFTC and she kindly offered to talk to me on Dec 9th.
— ᴅᴀɴᴛᴅᴍ💎 (@dantdm) November 23, 2019
🚨ATTENTION TO ALL YOUTUBERS CONCERNED ABOUT COPPA🚨 The FTC has stated that your content isn’t considered directed to children just because it has a child audience and that bright colours and animated characters won’t put your at risk. #YouTubeCOPPA #COPPA pic.twitter.com/xwQoRfVVPd
— Cartoonshi (@cartoonshi) November 23, 2019
Dear @youtube creators, have any of you noticed that your videos marked "for kids" don't show up in a google search? It's as if @Google is censoring all of my wholesome kid friendly videos! No "Raining Tacos"! No "Space Unicorn"! Who does this help? #coppa pic.twitter.com/fKmWQNd76K
— Parry Gripp (@parrygripp) November 21, 2019
With the legal burden for honoring COPPA by labeling their content now entirely on their shoulders – creators might be hoping for an alternative and expecting help from YouTube.
But the company seems entirely uninterested in taking any steps to alleviate their situation.
For example, creators who don't want to allow access to under-13 users were hoping YouTube would either block these viewers or selectively stop tracking them when they visit the channel.
And even though YouTube has the analytics data to make this happen, the company is making matters easy for itself with little regard towards channel owners, refusing to implement this model and going instead with a move that puts all of the liability on their individual creators and will remove a significant portion of revenue (up to 90%) from creators that YouTube determines is “made for kids”.