Everything You Need To Know About COPPA

On January 6th, 2020, YouTube rolled out privacy changes that affected ad revenue for some creators. These changes came in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, also known as COPPA.

What Is COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act)? 

Simply put, COPPA is a law dealing with how websites, apps, and other online operators and services collect data and personal information from kids under the age of 13 years old. The US Federal Trade Commission – otherwise known as the FTC – designed this law to limit the collection of data and use of personal information about children. 

This law gives parents control over what information websites and apps can collect from their kids. While it essentially applies to websites for kids, it also may apply to sites aimed at the general public – like Google and YouTube. 

Because of this law’s existence, YouTube now requires creators – regardless of their location – to label whether their videos are “made for kids” or not.

What Is COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act)
COPPA is a law made by the American FTC to protect children’s right online

Why The Sudden Change In Policies? 

In September 2019, the FTC, as well as New York’s Attorney General, took Google (and YouTube) to court, stating the YouTube illegally collected personal information from children without getting their parents’ consent. 

More specifically, the complaint against YouTube was that they violated the COPPA Rule by collecting cookies from viewers of child-directed channels, without notifying the parents first and getting their consent to do so. YouTube earned millions of dollars by using these cookies to deliver targeted ads to whoever viewed these channels. 

They reached a settlement, which imposed Google to pay a $170 million fine to both the FTC and New York for violating the COPPA Rule.

In addition to the fine, the agreement demands Google and YouTube to produce, execute and keep a system that allows channel owners to identify their “made for kids” content on the platform so that YouTube can ensure it is complying with COPPA. The companies also had to notify creators that their “made for kids” content may be subject to the COPPA Rule’s obligations and give annual training about complying with COPPA for employees who deal with YouTube creators. 

The settlement also prohibits Youtube and Google from violating the COPPA Rule, and demands they provide notice about their data collection practices and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal data from children.

What Does This Mean For Creators? 

According to the new system, creators can now either label their entire channel as “made for kids”, or they could select and identify individual videos as “made for kids”, as needed. Videos that are labeled as “made for kids” content would then be forbidden from collecting data from viewers. According to TechCrunch, this limits your ability as a creator to leverage Google’s highly profitable behavioral advertising technology on videos kids are likely to watch. 

In other words, it means that targeted ads can’t run on “made for kids” content. Since you have to label “made for kids” content as such, you’re removing the personalized ads feature from those videos. As a result, you’ll see a decrease in your revenue – if your channel is monetized, of course. 

It also takes away features like notifications, end screens and comments from your video. Since these features rely on user data, they must be limited or turned off to comply with the law.

What Counts As “Made For Kids” Content
In order to avoid fines and law action taken against you, you have to mark whether your content is made for kids or not

What Counts As “Made For Kids” Content? 

According to the FTC’s guidance on the COPPA Rule, a video is made for kids if: 

  • Children are the primary audience based on the factors below. 
  • Children aren’t the primary audience, but the video is still oriented to them based on the factors below. 

When you’re trying to determine whether or not your content should be marked as “made for kids”, you should consider various factors, such as: 

  • The subject matter of the video. 
  • If kids are your targeted audience or the actual audience for the video. 
  • If the video includes characters, celebrities or toys that appeal to kids. This includes animated characters and cartoons. 
  • If the language in your video is intended for kids to understand. 
  • If the video includes activities that appeal to kids, such as play-acting, singing simple songs made for kids, early educational content, etc. 
  • If the video includes songs, poems or stories for kids. 
  • If the content is advertised for kids. 
  • If you have any empirical evidence that could help you determine whether or not your channel or content is made for kids.

What Does “General Audience Content” Mean When It Comes To YouTube Videos? 

General audience content is content that could appeal to all ages – kids and adults – but isn’t specifically made for kids. It could also be content that is intended for teenagers or an older audience. This type of content should not be set as “made for kids”. In other words, this content is content that appeals to everyone and isn’t intended specifically for kids.

Some examples of the types of video that could be considered “general audience” are: 

  • A DIY tutorial, teaching how to remake dolls or clay figurines
  • A vlog about a trip to an amusement park
  • A video instructing how to create mods or avatars for computer and video games 
  • Animated content that appeals to everyone, of all ages (for example, Simon’s Cat animated videos) 
  • A gaming video that features adult language

 The bottom line is that just because a video is safe for everyone to watch, doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be marked as “made for kids” on YouTube.  

What Does “Mixed Audience Content” Mean When It Comes To YouTube Videos? 

Mixed audience content is different from general audience content, and it is considered a type of “made for kids” content. This content specifically targets kids as one of its audiences. That means that even if kids aren’t the primary audience, it’s still considered made for kids. 

In cases of mixed audience content, the important thing to look at is who you’re intending to target with your video.  

What Happens If You Don’t Label Your Videos Correctly? 

While it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal and with the amount of content, you’d think you might be able to get away with not setting your videos as “made for kids” (if they are), it’s actually a huge deal. 

If you don’t set your video’s audience up correctly under the new COPPA Rule, you could see your channel terminated and receive a fine of over $42,000. 

How You Can Avoid COPPA Fines: Labelling Your Content As “Made For Kids” Or Not

Labelling your content can be done on two different levels: the channel level and the video level. 

On The Channel Level:

  • Click on your profile picture and enter the YouTube Studio.
  • In you YouTube Studio, scroll down and click on Settings.
channel level step 1
Scroll down in your YouTube Studio and click on Settings
  • Next Click on Channel and the Advanced Settings tab.
  • Scrolling down to Audience, you’ll be prompted to choose whether your channel is made for kids or not.
In your Channel settings tab, click on Advanced Settings and scroll down to Audience
  • When done, click Save at the bottom right corner of the pop-up window.

On The Video Level: 

  • Go to the Video section of the YouTube Studio. 
Go to the Videos section of the YouTube Studio
  • Hover with your mouse over the video you wish to change settings for and click on the little pencil icon
video level step 2
Hover over the video you wish to edit and click on the pencil icon
  • Scroll down and choose whether the video is made for kids or not made for kids
  • Click “Save”
Scroll down and choose whether the video is made for kids or not and click save

Frequently Asked Questions About COPPA And YouTube 

Because this topic is so confusing, we scoured the internet to find the most frequently asked questions regarding COPPA and YouTube and answered them for you. 

What Happens If I Set My Video Content As Made For Kids? 

If you set individual videos or live-streams as made for kids, the following features will become unavailable: personal advertising, comments, channel branding watermark, donate button, info cards, end screens, live chat and live chat donations, notification bell, playback in the mini-player, super chat and super stickers and the “save to playlist” or “watch later” option. 

What Happens If I Set My Channel As Made For Kids?

As well as the unavailable features mentioned above, more features will be unavailable. Among them are stories, community posts, and channel memberships. 

What Happens If I Mistakenly Set My Audience Incorrectly? 

According to YouTube, if you set your audience incorrectly, “you may face compliance issues with the FTC and we may have to take action on your YouTube account”

This basically means that you’ll get fined for mislabeling your content and that YouTube might delete your videos or terminate your channel altogether. 

How Can I Determine If My Content Is Made For Kids Or Not? 

YouTube and the FTC were kind enough to share what factors you should look into when determining whether your content should be marked as made for kids or not: 

  • The Subject matter of the video. 
  • Whether kids are the targeted or actual audience of the content.
  • If the video includes child models or actors.
  • If the video includes characters, celebrities or toys that appeal to kids. This includes animated characters and cartoons. 
  • Whether the language used in the video is made for kids to understand. 
  • If the content includes activities that appeal to children, like play-acting, simple songs, games or early-education related things. 
  • If the video includes stories, songs, and poems that are aimed for children. 

How Old Is A “Kid” According To YouTube and the FTC’s COPPA Rule? 

In the United States, a kid is anyone under the age of 13 years old. However, this age may vary in different countries. This means that if you’re under 13, you can’t set up a YouTube account – but you can use your parents’ account to watch videos. 

Is All Animated Content Considered As Made For Kids? 

No. The FTC further confirms this by stating that “just because your video shows bright colors or animated characters, it’s not necessarily covered under COPPA”. Just have a look at Rick And Morty – that’s an animated show that’s clearly not made for kids and should never be marked as such.

What Do I Do If YouTube Marked My Account As Made For Kids, But I Don’t Think It Is? 

YouTube has the ability to set the audience for you. It uses machine learning to identify the videos that are directed for children. However, they go on and say that you shouldn’t rely on their systems to set the audience for you and that you should do it yourself.

If you were marked as “made for kids” but feel that you aren’t, you can appeal directly by writing to YouTube’s support team and ask them to review their decision and change it, providing proof to substantiate your claims. 

What If My Content Appeals To A Wide Audience And Not Just Children? 

In that case, your content is considered as “mixed audience”. It might not be directed specifically towards kids, but they do enjoy watching it and therefore you should look into the factors stated in this blog post to see if you should mark your video as “made for kids”. Remember – the responsibility to do so is on you!

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