On September 4 of this year, a settlement was reached in a lawsuit brought against YouTube by the state of New York and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which required the goliath video sharing platform to pony up $170 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA). The settlement not only resulted in the fine, but a slew of new rules that YouTube, and therefore YouTube kids content creators, must comply with. Now, in a brief video, YouTube has outlined the new rules, and they are infuriating YouTubers, especially those who produce videos aimed at children.
The brief video announcing the new changes that will affect YouTubers making kids content.
After the settlement, numerous YouTubers started pumping out videos decrying it, declaring the new rules to be a major, perhaps fatal, blow to people who create kids content on the platform for a living. The YouTubers’ complaints were mostly focused on the fact that the terms of the settlement called for YouTube to stop collecting data on, and aiming targeted ads at, child viewers (children defined as anyone below the age of 13), which would necessarily mean a decrease in many of their channels’ revenue. And while the YouTubers themselves didn’t have much clarification as to what the new rules would be, thanks to the above video, they now do. Kind of.
First off, one unquestionable result of YouTube’s changes to its kids content policies is a sizable loss of revenue for most, if not all, of the people making content aimed at children. Because YouTube is no longer allowed to target ads at children based on data collected from them (specifically “cookies” that track their history of online activity), YouTube channels that have kids videos as their bread and butter will take a serious hit—targeted ads based on data collected by YouTube pay more to content creators versus general ads that are not targeted. Which means anybody who marks their content as aimed at kids—a mandatory decision that will need to be made before posting videos—will almost certainly make less money than they did prior to the changes.
A video from the FTC announcement of the September 4 settlement with YouTube.
On top of an inability to show targeted ads, YouTube videos aimed at child audiences will also be hamstrung by a bevy of other adjustments that will make the mass sharing of that type of video much less likely. The video explaining the changes (top) notes that videos aimed at kids will no longer have as options features including comments, info cards, and end screens; channels producing kids content will also have stories, the community tab, the notification bell, and the ability for viewers to add videos to watchlist or save to playlist, disabled.
Beyond that, many of the changes that have been announced by YouTube imply subjective guidelines that will likely make consistent compliance from YouTubers difficult. For example, it seems unclear what exactly constitutes content aimed at kids. This is especially true of gaming videos, which could be considered kid-targeted, or just aimed at a general audience with kids making up a significant portion of the viewers (think Minecraft). YouTube says that it’s going to deploy machine learning algorithms to help decipher which videos are aimed at kids, but this will likely, in part, only further confuse matters—many of the decisions made by the algorithms will likely be questionable or even blatantly wrong, and YouTubers will lose out on revenue before incorrect judgements by the algorithms can be rectified.
Perhaps the biggest hit to YouTubers creating kids content, or even those creating content that could be misconstrued as targeted toward kids, comes from the possibility of being fined directly by the FTC. As CNET points out, “Channels that post kids videos but don’t identify them as such run the risk of getting hit with their own ‘aggressive’ FTC fines, according to the commission.” YouTuber Dan Eardley, the creator of Pixel Dan, a YouTube channel focused on reviews of collectible toys, told The Verge that “If the FTC decides that [we] are indeed targeting children, we’ll be fined. [And that is] frightening.” He added that “It’s especially scary because the verbiage of ‘kid directed’ vs ‘kid attractive’ isn’t very clear,” which means it will be hard to tell if he’s in violation of the FTC’s regulations or not.
In regards to support from YouTube for content creators who are trying to decipher if their content is targeted at kids according to federal laws, the platform, which is a subsidiary of tech giant, Google, says that they should consult a lawyer. A suggestion that seems ludicrous when considering the amount of videos posted by YouTube channels, as well as the cost of lawyers.
Looking toward the future, it seems that there may be some kind of exodus, of questionable scale, from YouTube to other video streaming platforms such as Twitch or Mixer. In another article from The Verge, YouTuber Een Forester said that “It’s kind of like [YouTube is] killing video game content.” Forester added that “Now, we can’t make videos on more mature video games because they’ll get demonetized, but if we make videos on child-friendly games, they’re also now going to get demonetized. What do we do?” He told The Verge that he is considering moving to one of the aforementioned alternative platforms as a result of this conundrum.
YouTube Kids, an app YouTube has made specifically for content aimed at people aged 13 and under, may also provide a refuge for content creators who currently produce videos for YouTube, although a transition from YouTube to YouTube Kids poses challenges as well. For example, channels that already have an established presence on YouTube will have to reform their audience on YouTube Kids, and may never earn as much audience attraction as they did on the main platform. YouTube Kids has also faced harsh criticism from advocacy groups, which say that the app isn’t effective enough at weeding out content not suitable for children. YouTube has said that it’s responding to these criticisms with reinvigorated efforts to review and filter out unsuitable videos, and presumably this could lead to a similar loss of revenue even for those kids content creators who have already switched to YouTube Kids.
A video from YouTube channel Yawi Vlogs, which says it will be no longer be incentivized to make content.
At this point it’s impossible to say how exactly YouTubers will be affected by the new content regulations, as the changes announced by YouTube won’t go into effect until January of 2020. But if your favorite YouTube channel focused on kids content, or even content simply geared toward gamers, disappears from the video platform, at least you’ll now know why. Which is more than can be said for how creators themselves are going to know which of their videos are and are not “made for children.”
What do you think about these changes to YouTube’s policies regarding content aimed at kids? Do you think the FTC has done more harm than good with its demanded changes to YouTube’s regulations, or do you think this is the best way to protect children from predatory marketing practices? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Feature image: Marco Verch Professional