Unpacking YouTube Changes: COPPA and Kids Content
YouTube has announced the steps it will be taking to ensure YouTube and its creators comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This comes after a September YouTube blog post wherein they detailed upcoming changes to their data practices based on a settlement they reached with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
This article will detail the practical platform changes that will affect creators like you and discuss the potential impact on your channel revenue and performance.
YouTube Studio categorization of content
YouTube has announced the launch of 2 sections within the YouTube creator studio enabling creators to categorize their content as being "made for kids" or not. This phrase will be explained further in the article, as it is a bit deceptive. All YouTube creators will be required to categorize their content.
Creators will now have the option to either set their audience on a channel-wide level or individually per video during the upload process. The former will simplify the upload process for creators who do not ever upload content that can be considered to be "made for kids", alternatively if selected on the channel-level, additional channel features will be lost - described above. Screenshots below.
Channel-level audience setting (located in the studio: Settings > Channel > Advanced settings)
Video-level audience setting (set during the upload process, in the Video Settings, or in bulk on the Video Manager)
Channel impact (Monetization and Audience Features)
By far the most impactful result of these changes for content categorized as "made for kids" will be a severe decrease in video revenue. This stems from YouTube disabling personalized advertising on that content.
How come? When an brand chooses to advertise on YouTube (and many other platforms), they are offered the chance to specifically target their ads to relevant audiences based on multiple factors including age, gender, location, interests, device used, etc. Advertisers can also select the type of content they want their ads to appear on.
Advertisers will pay more to reach their target audience, as this offers higher conversion and sale rates. If a video isn't eligible to be served by personalized ads due to it being categorized as "made for kids", the creator of that video may see the revenue on that video decrease dramatically (50-80%+, based on creator testing). YouTube may find ways to balance out this impact in the future, but they have not yet announced any countermeasures for this expected revenue drop.
Creators may expect to be able to enable alternate forms of monetization on the channel, however YouTube will also be required to disable the following monetization features on affected content to further comply with COPPA:
- Fan Donations made through YouTube (incl. Super Chat, Super Stickers)
- Channel Memberships (Monthly recurring revenue)
- Merch Shelf (Items added to a creator's merch shelf will not be visible on affected content)
Several key audience features will be lost on affected content, some of which have already been lost in the past few months:
- Video Comments and Live Chat on Livestreams
- Info Cards and End Screens (to invite viewers to watch your other content, subscribe, or vote in polls)
- Saving affected videos to YouTube playlists
- Video playback in the YouTube Miniplayer
- Channel branding watermark
Additionally, creators who set their entire channels as "made for kids" will lose the following additional audience features:
- YouTube Stories
- Community Tab visibility altogether (incl. Text, Playlist, Image, Video, and Poll posts)
- Channel notification bell settings
- Saving any video to Watch Later
YouTube's actively maintained list of affected features can be found in this YT Support article. It is also likely that YouTube analytics will be impactedon affected content.
YouTube will be employing machine learning algorithms in order to identify content that may be "made for kids". Creators worldwide will be required to categorize their content, despite this being an action from the FTC. It will be the creators' responsibility to ensure that they are correctly categorizing their content.
YouTube has stated that they will trust creators to set their audience settings in accordance with their content, however they may choose to override the setting in cases of creator error or abuse. In cases of abuse, YouTube may apply its own penalities (such as strikes, warnings and loss of features) in addition to any potential penalties from the FTC itself. On that end, the FTC details its enforcement of COPPA on its website, available here. We advise any creator to review this page, however we will also be recapping some of the points from the FTC's website:
- Parents, consumer groups, industry members, and others who believe an operator [in this case, this could be a creator] is violating COPPA may submit complaints to the FTC.
- A court can hold operators who violate COPPA liable for civil penalties of up to $42,530 per violation. Many factors come into play when assessing the amount of civil penalties.
- Although COPPA is a US Federal rule, US States and certain Federal agencies may enforce compliance with respect to entities over which they have jurisdiction.
- Foreign-based entities must also comply with COPPA if they are directed to children in the US, or knowingly collect personal information from children in the US.
Categorizing your content
We'll now dive into the question: Is my content "made for kids"?
An important opening disclosure: We cannot provide legal advice, and this article is not a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult with legal counsel if you are unsure how to interpret COPPA and YouTube's requirements in the context of your content.
Now, It's first important to highlight that when YouTube talks about "kids", they mean anyone under the age of 13 (this may be different outside of the US). The reason why we feel the statement "made for kids" is deceptively simple is because it cannot necessarily be answered by asking if the content in question was produced first and foremost for children under the age of 13.
In the context of YouTube, according to the FTC's "Six-Step COPPA Compliance Plan" ( available here) and YouTube's relevant support article, a creator may understand that COPPA not only applies to content directed primarily to children under 13, but also content created for a general audience, but you have actual knowledge that you also collect personal information from children under 13.
Personal information may include YouTube usernames, IP address (used to determine viewer location in YT Analytics), etc.
Before we dive into this, it's important to mention that content produced for a general audience won't necessarily be affected (eg. Music, Blogging, Life Hacks, ...). Conversely, even if you intend to create content for an older audience, such as teens, your content may be affected if it is directed to children under 13, as described below.
What does it mean for content to be "directed to children under 13"? The FTC says it looks at a variety of factors when making its determinations. YouTube has stated that in the context of its platform, creators should consider the following factors on both a channel and video level (relevant article):
- Video subject matter (eg. educational content for preschoolers vs medical students)
- 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.
YouTube states that the key to making a determination is balancing all of the above factors. YouTube and the FTC are not out to "get" creators, but it is important for creators to be honest in the assessment of their content in order to avoid any future suprises.
In the context of gaming content on YouTube, it is not yet clear how YouTube may choose to enforce COPPA compliance. It is unlikely that this will be solely based on the game's rating (ESRB/PEGI), but creators who play games generally destined for younger audiences should anticipate having to appeal any eventual YouTube actions they disagree with.
Appealing YouTube decisions
The best way for creators to avoid miscategorization of their content is by ensuring that they are applying an audience choice to their content before YouTube automatically determines which bucket the content should fall into. However, if YouTube chooses to oppose a creator's categorization of their content, or automatically misclassifies the content in the eyes of its creator, they can appeal this decision by sending feedback to YouTube with the video URL and an explanation of why they feel like the content was miscategorized.
Content categorized by YouTube will be marked as "Made for kids - Set by YouTube" in the video editor.
If you have any further questions regarding potential channel impact, we recommend talking to your MCN and/or YouTube partner managers (or partner support). Paragon Partners can reach out using the "Get Help" button above.
If you have any questions from a legal perspective, we recommend reaching out to legal counsel familiar with COPPA and privacy laws, such as Morrison Rothman LLP.