COPPA, The FTC and the Future of Youtube

With the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) fighting YouTube, new fines and restrictions appear to be on the horizon for content creators. It all started in early September, when the FTC fined YouTube $170 million for violations of COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). Basically, COPPA prevents online sites and companies from targeting kids in the site’s advertisements. This is because children, especially at a very young age, can not tell the difference between an ad, and normal content. In general, YouTube has been in compliance with COPPA, because people are required to be over 13 in order to make an account, however very few kids actually listen to this rule. If kids want to watch YouTube and subscribe to their favorite creators, they simply lie about their age, or use a parent’s account, and YouTube knows it. There is no real way to check if the people making accounts are being honest about their age, so YouTube would be in the clear if they didn’t constantly talk about the number of kids on their website. In one presentation to Hasbro in 2016 YouTube claims to be the “#1 website regularly visited by kids.”

Unfortunately, the fine is not the only result of the case. YouTube has been forced to rewrite their guidelines, forcing all YouTubers to flag their videos as either “Kid Friendly” or “Not Kid Friendly”, leaving YouTubers confused on what differentiates the two. The worst part is, if the FTC believes that a particular video has been inappropriately flagged, the YouTuber can be fined $42,000 per video. The FTC release a few guidelines for what could be appealing to kids, but with how vague they are it seems like anything short of blatant swearing is “Kid Friendly.” The problem with “Kid Friendly” videos is that they lose something called “targeted ads,” which make up about 80%-90% of the YouTuber’s ad-revenue (the money they make off of ads) and it is unclear if those lost ads will be replaced with “untargeted ads.” At this point it seems like YouTubers will have to purposely make their videos inappropriate to keep all their income, but they can’t make them too mature or they will be “demonetized” and lose all ad-revenue.

These new regulations will be implemented on January 1st 2020, and it is unclear what effects they will have on the YouTube community. Hundreds of people have already spoken out against the FTC, but whether or not they will listen remains to be seen.