The FTC Gets An Earful On COPPA From YouTube Content Creators

Content creators on YouTube are freaking out.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 175,000 comments in response to a call for feedback on potential changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), an abundance of which came from YouTube creators worried that their ad-supported livelihoods are about to go up in smoke.

As one anonymous commenter put it: “You are ruining thousands of dreams and careers. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand how they would feel.”

The deadline to submit comments was Dec. 11.

COPPA, created to regulate the collection of data from children under 13, took effect in 2000 – five years before YouTube was founded. In early October, roughly a month after YouTube settled a COPPA violation lawsuit for $170 million, the FTC held a workshop in Washington, DC, to examine whether to modernize the law.

Top of mind, for example, is the question of how to deal with general audience (GA) sites and services, such as YouTube. 

The YouTube problem

Right now, COPPA applies to GA sites or services only if it has actual knowledge that it’s used by a large number of children under 13. In theory, a platform like YouTube has plausible deniability on its side.

One of the main reasons YouTube got dinged by the FTC is because its salespeople ballyhooed YouTube’s popularity with kids, a clear example of actual knowledge.

Part of the problem with the way COPPA is written today is that it incentivizes companies to avoid looking too deeply into whether they have children on their platform. There’s no concept of willful disregard under COPPA.

As part of its settlement, YouTube will soon start requiring creators to classify whether their content is directed at children and then to label it as such.

Earlier this week, YouTube wrote to the FTC asking for clearer guidelines on when content should be considered primarily child directed. The line is a little blurry. Animated clips, crafting content, videos about antique toys – there’s lots of stuff that kids might watch that isn’t necessarily created specifically for them.

Toys and Little Gaby, the top-earning YouTube channel in the United Kingdom, which features a 4-year-old little girl and her 5-year-old brother playing with toys and makes around 1 million pounds a year, shared a comment with the FTC asking for more guidance “on when content should be considered primarily child-directed, mixed audience or general audience.”

But most of the commenters on COPPA aren’t concerned with the nuances of the law. They just don’t want to lose their ability to monetize. Here’s what they’re saying:

“I regularly watch content creators who have raised concerns over the current COPPA rules and I believe their ability to monetize and create content on YouTube while also supporting themselves financially is at stake here.” –Anonymous

“COPPA is being too aggressive towards YouTube. Content creators are going to be harmed and YouTube Kids is a thing, just in case you forgot.” –Jeremy

“Turning off personalized ads and forbidding comments on family friendly content will mean all my favorite channels may disappear … Ads are going to play in front of videos anyway, let’s make them count.” –Gabriel

“Please don’t punish those who share their videos to whomever just because of a small possibility that it may be watched by kids.” –Anonymous

“It is a parent’s responsibility to monitor what their children [are] watching, just like on TV. If advertising is the concern, then the parents can use the YouTube Kids app or purchase YouTube Premium, but mass demonetizing channels that have good quality content and deserve to receive compensation for their hard work is not the answer. All this is doing is driving them to other platforms, or to take on more brand deals.” –Nicole

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