FTC COPPA Law Demands YouTube Categorize All Videos, Remove Personalized Ads from “Kid-Directed” Content

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After a $170 million settlement between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and YouTube, YouTube will have to enforce new policies on January 1st 2020 that could see thousands of “kid-directed” videos not having personalized adverts.

The case began due to the FTC’s update the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) in 2013, and how YouTube was now in  violation of those laws.

While the law originally only mentioned preventing the gathering of a person under 13’s real name, home address and other personal details without permission, the FTC proposed personalized data be included as well (which YouTube uses to generate personalized adverts). In addition, the FTC proposed that the law not just apply to content intended for children, but content a child would find appealing.

After settling the case on September 4th 2019, a series of new terms and conditions will be coming into effect on January 1st 2020. YouTube explained the new changes on their support forum:

“In the coming months, here’s what’s changing: 

  • You will be required to tell us if your content is made for kids. In addition, we’ll use machine learning to help us identify videos that clearly target young audiences. At a high level, content that is made for kids has an emphasis on:
    • Children or children’s characters.
    • Popular children’s programming or animated characters.
    • Play-acting, or stories using children’s toys.
    • Child protagonists engaging in common natural play patterns such as play-acting and/or imaginative play.
    • Popular children’s songs, stories or poems.

Ultimately, you know your audience best and we’ll rely on you to designate (in Studio) your videos as made for kids. If a creator attempts to avoid categorizing their content correctly, there may be consequences on the YouTube platform for that creator.

  • We will stop serving personalized ads on content that is made for kids, whether designated by you or by our classifier.  In accordance with COPPA, serving personalized ads (ads that are targeted to users based on their past usage of Google products and services) to child audiences is not permissible. If applicable, this may result in a decrease in revenue for some creators. Note that we will continue to serve non-personalized ads (ads that are shown based on context rather than on user data) on content that is made for kids.
  • Some features will no longer be available on this type of content, like comments. The ability to comment will no longer be available on the watch page. Likes/dislikes and subscriptions on this content will not show up on public lists. Overall, viewers will have minimum engagement options with made for kids content on YouTube.com.”

The aforementioned consequences for not obeying the new terms correctly will be a $42,000 per video (according to TubeFilter). This is in-spite of updates to laws stating user-generated content websites are responsible for their user’s content, and that the YouTube users have no access to the private data generated by viewers.

Online video content news website TubeFilter expressed its concerns. They propose that as personalized adverts generate more revenue for content creators, it may drive content creators to make less child-friendly content on the platform. Their own testing also stated content creators could see a serious drop in revenue.

“Based on our initial testing, a video not running  personalized ads sees a loss in revenue somewhere between 60% to 90%. So, if a video on a given channel could generate $100 in revenue for a creator right now with personalized ads running, categorizing the video as “directed to children” (and therefore removing the personalized ads) would mean the video’s revenue would drop to somewhere between $10 and $40.”

In addition, they point out that the YouTube Kids app already provides content YouTube deems child-appropriate, and has no advertising whatsoever.

There are additional factors that have not been publicly acknowledged by YouTube. There is no information about what would happen should a non-US citizen violate this law, as these rules will be rolled out globally.

While the example for what constitutes “directed at kids” includes what seems to be content for the very young, some other questions do arise. For example, video game based content may fit into the above category, especially when it is a game designed for kids; not to mention ongoing discussions as to whether game’s like Fortnite are aimed at children due to their use bright colors and popularity with the demographic.

Would a “let’s play” or playthrough of a children’s video game be considered kid-directed, even if the commentator swears or makes jokes for an audience far older than the game’s age rating or intended audience? Could this new “clear” definition of kid-directed content result in stricter rules on content for those videos (whether the creator intended it to be for kids or not).

Furthermore, YouTube may already have categorized what content on their platform is kid-appropriate beyond the YouTube Kids app. The website has had numerous “adpocalpyses“; large numbers of advertisers pulling their adverts from the website due to a controversy, and the new terms that come after to prevent such an incident happening again being poorly received. This in turn usually results in many channels suffering demonetization.

YouTube has already begun to demonetize content with profanity, even if the content is not intended for children. If YouTube is attempting to make their platform as advertiser friendly as possible (non-controversial and non-offensive), surely the criteria would result in a clear divide of what you could show a child? By marking what content is appropriate for most advertisers, have you not already made content that is appropriate for children? Even so, not all adverts are appropriate to show children.

TubeFilter has also proposed a way for users to voice their concerns before the rules come into effect. First, they propose asking the FTC for more details on the ruling during the FTC’s request for public comments.

The FTC is now asking the public for comments about its enforcement of COPPA, including the 2013 changes, before the Jan. 1 enforcement begins. This is a rare opportunity for the creator community and its fans to raise their voices and be heard. The FTC wants to hear from creators about the impact this will have on their businesses, and from parents about the impact this will have on them and their children.

In response to the first wave of comments, the FTC already extended the deadline for people to provide input. We want to use this opportunity to request the following:

  1. The FTC should allow parents to decide whether their kids will use YouTube Kids or YouTube’s main platform, without punishing creators when parents choose to let kids use YouTube’s main site.
  2. The FTC should not expand the scope of COPPA to child-attractive content as it pertains to content creators.
  3. The FTC should put out an enforcement statement on how it intends to enforce COPPA against individual content creators.
  4. The FTC should provide clarity on the rules defining what constitutes “directed to children,” as the definition is extremely vague in the creator context.
  5. The FTC places a six-month moratorium on enforcement against content creators, allowing us more time to adjust to the new post-settlement YouTube ecosystem.
  6. Roll back elements of the 2013 amendment as they pertain to content creators to preserve our ability to continue producing free, ad-supported content for the families who choose to consume our content on YouTube’s main site.

Second, TubeFilter encourages users to sign a petition to enforce the above points, and for content creators and their audiences (including Jeremy Johnston and his channel “JHouse Law” who also voiced his concerns) to submit their comments to the FTC.

If you wish to submit your comments to the FTC, you can find the form here.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!



Taking his first steps onto Route 1 and never stopping, Ryan has had a love of RPGs since a young age. Now he's learning to appreciate a wider pallet of genres and challenges.