Over the past month or so, marketers and creators were introduced to a new and strange buzzword (acronym, actually): COPPA. It stands for Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and since the enforcement of YouTube’s settlement with FTC (Federal Trade Commission), it’s going to have a significant effect on video content and creators. If it all sounds utterly unclear to you now – it’s because it is. This matter is so new and vague it’s still not 100% clear to lawyers and even to YouTube themself.
But, if you’ll bear with us, in the following article we’re going to break down as much as possible – what is COPPA exactly, what is it trying to solve, what does it mean to creators and marketers, and how you should adapt accordingly. The implications of this dramatic change in YouTube’s policy are major, so you should educate yourself as much as you can on the subject to make sure you comply with the law.
What Is Coppa and What Is It Trying to Solve?
The COPPA rule was promulgated in 1998 to protect Children’s privacy online. At that time, the main restriction was collecting Children’s private details online – such as full name, address, etc. without their parents’ consent. But as the years went by and the digital world evolved, that concern isn’t relevant anymore. What is relevant nowadays is the modern way of data collection: cookies.
When children watch videos on YouTube, their data (location, preferences, etc.) is collected and used to suggest more videos and target personalized ads, which are proven to be by far more converting. That somehow passed under the COPPA’s radar, until a lawsuit was made against YouTube claiming that although the video platform’s TOS exclude children, the reality is that many children are watching videos on it and that the COPPA law was violated.
The result of that complaint was a $170 million settlement between Google/Youtube and FTC. But that’s not the end of it – as a part of the agreement, the FTC stated that “COPPA applies [to YouTube content creators] in the same way it would if the channel owner had its own website or app.”
What’s the Meaning of COPPA for YouTube Creators and Marketers?
The COPPA implementation means changes when uploading videos from now on, to exiting videos, and to monetization. As YouTube communicated to its creators, any video content on the website should be designated as made for kids or not made for kids. That can be done either on the channel level, to specific videos or to each video individually.
From now on, when you upload a new video, you’ll be asked if this video made for kids under “Audience”.
To label your existing videos (which you have to or YouTube’s machine learning will do it for you), pick the selected videos on YouTube studio, then click “edit” on the top bar.
Then, pick “Audience”, answer the question (made for kids or not) and click “UPDATE VIDEOS”.
If you want, you can also change the audience settings for your whole channel. On YouTube Studio, click “Settings”.
Then, click “Channel” and then “Advanced settings”. There, under “Audience”, you’ll have 3 options: to set your channel as a channel for kids, to set your channel as a channel that is not made for kids or to review this setting for every video.
What’s Considered “Made for Kids” Content?
According to the FTC, your videos are considered “Made for Kids” if children are the primary audience watching them – and they are your target audience creating the video. Here are the factors that can help determine whether your content is made for kids or not:
- The 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.
That being said, just because some kids watch your content doesn’t make it made for kids. Also, if your videos are safe to watch by kids, but they are not meant to target kids – it’s unlikely you need to mark them as “Made for Kids”.
How Old Is a Kid?
According to United States law, a kid is anyone who’s under 13 years old. The definition differs in different countries, and you should check your local law and follow it – if it says an older age, mark your videos accordingly.
What Does It Mean for Your Channel If Your Content Is Set for Kids?
As collecting children’s data is prohibited, setting your content as “Made for Kids” has several implications. First, it means some features will no longer be available: comments are restricted, you can’t create info cards or end screens, and your videos can’t be added to playlists or to “Watch later”.
On top of that, the most significant meaning is no personalized ads – which inevitably means a decrease in revenues. You will still be able to monetize your videos, but with generic ads and not personalized ones, which are proven to be more effective.
What Happens If YouTube’s System Says My Video Is “Made for Kids,” but I Disagree?
We’re talking about two possible instances: one, you haven’t set the audience for your video, and YouTube automatically configures it for you. In that case, you can change the setting to the option you believe is true to your video, and that will be it.
The other option is that you already set the audience for your video, but YouTube’s system detects error or abuse. If you differ, you can use the “Send feedback” button that can be found in YouTube Studio under “Details”.
What Happens If I Mark My Video’s Audience Incorrectly?
Well, the simple truth is that by doing so, you’re breaking the law. While YouTube tries to stay vague about COPPA violations by stating it can cause “compliance issues,” the FTC blog is very straightforward about this: “The Rule allows for civil penalties of up to $42,530 per violation…”
They do continue with a small disclaimer: “…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.”
Either way, YouTube and FTC are serious about this subject, and every YouTube creator should react accordingly. If you’re unsure about setting your videos’ audience or any other matter regarding the COPPA compliance, you should advise with a lawyer to avoid any issues.