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YouTube tells FTC to loosen & clarify restrictions

The tech giant and thousands of creators have appealed to the US government agency, saying it's not just kids watching cartoons, crafts and DIY videos.
December 10, 2019

YouTube has submitted new comments to the US Federal Trade Commission, asking the government agency to loosen some of the restrictions on videos directed at children.

To recap, in September, the FTC and New York Attorney General issued a landmark US$170-million fine against YouTube for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). In addition to the monetary penalty, the settlement required that YouTube develop, implement and maintain a system for channel owners to self-identify as making child-directed content. At the time, YouTube launched the YouTube Kids website (after previously only existing as an app) and announced it was going to treat data from anyone watching children’s content on its site as if a child were consuming it, regardless of age of the user.

In the short term, this meant that personalized ads stopped running on content made for kids, certain features (such as comments and notifications) were not longer available on those videos, and the onus was put on the creator to identify what content is for kids—though YouTube is also uses AI software to categorize those videos.

Earlier this year, just before the ruling and fine, the FTC also began accepting comments on COPPA from the public. Since then, more than 170,000 comments have been submitted, including several from kids content creators. “I’m concerned this rule might affect content makers who create content for adults that might be construed to be for kids. This is especially true for crafters and artists who use media that kids might want to watch, even though the videos are tagged for adults. If parents are concerned about privacy issues, they can use YouTube Kids,” one anonymous complaint said.

YouTube, itself, submitted comments yesterday saying, “Currently, the FTC’s guidance requires platforms must treat anyone watching primarily child-directed content as children under 13. This does not match what we see on YouTube, where adults watch favorite cartoons from their childhood or teachers look for content to share with their students.”

YouTube went on to say that creators are worried about not being able to host comments on any videos that are deemed as being for children, even if the viewer is above 13. As a result, it’s asking for the ability to have adults confirm their age and then view kids content without restrictions imposed on children.

It also requested clarity on what type of video actually constitutes as being “made for kids” and if all traditional kids activities, such as DIY, gaming and art videos, fall into that category. The FTC provided some guidance in November saying, “If your videos are about traditionally adult activities like employment, finances, politics, home ownership, home improvement, or travel, you’re probably not covered unless your content is geared toward kids.”

The government agency also said that just because a video has bright colors or animated characters doesn’t make it automatically covered by COPPA. But YouTube is asking for further clarity, because according to the FTC “COPPA applies in the same way it would if the channel owner had its own website or app.”

Initially, the FTC was going to stop accepting comments on December 9, but it has extended the deadline to December 11. YouTube is urging content makers to submit more complaints on the FTC website over the next few days.

About The Author
Alexandra Whyte is Kidscreen's News & Social Media Editor. Contact her at awhyte@brunico.com

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