YouTube rolls out changes for COPPA compliance, expects 'significant impact' for creators

Content creators may be in for a bumpy ride.

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YouTube has announced sweeping changes to how content creators will have to market and assign videos aimed at children, despite them having no access to data collected. 

On Monday, Google-owned YouTube said changes to YouTube Studio, the platform used to manage and publish content, are now rolling out globally, including the stipulation that videos must be assigned as 'for children' or 'not for children.'

Data generated from anyone watching a video designated as made for kids will be treated as coming from a child, no matter the actual age of the visitor.  

The announcement comes after news of a settlement reached between Google, YouTube, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the New York Attorney General. 

Back in September, Google and YouTube agreed to pay $170 million to settle claims that the content platform illegally collected sensitive information belonging to minors, a violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). 

COPPA imposes strict guidelines on websites, apps, and online services that are directed towards those under the age of 13. Both notice and parental consent must be obtained before identifying information can be collected under the rules. 

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This information may include, but it is not limited to, names, addresses, and persistent identifiers such as IP addresses or cookies. 

The FTC and New York Attorney General argued in the court case that YouTube is aware of many channels on its platform are directed at children, and yet, they do not comply with COPPA. 

Now, in order to ascertain which videos on YouTube are likely "intended for kids," as based on the FTC's definition, YouTube has created a machine learning-based algorithm which will detect content including themes such as child characters, toys, and games. 

YouTube wants content creators to set the designations -- but reserves the right to "override a creator designation if abuse or error is detected."

The major change, however, may come down to monetization, as any video designated as for a young audience will be severely restricted. 

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"YouTube now treats personal information from anyone watching children's content on the platform as coming from a child, regardless of the age of the user," the company says. "This means that on videos made for kids, we limit data collection and use, and as a result, we need to restrict or disable some product features. For example, we no longer serve personalized ads on this content or support features such as comments, live chat, notification bell, stories, save to playlist, and others."

Parents are still recommended to use YouTube Kids, which will also now be promoted across videos marked as for minors. In the meantime, however, content creators may suddenly feel the sting. 

It is not just the potential reduction in revenue that child-labeled videos may have -- content creators should also be concerned with how the FTC views channel owners and their personal liability. 

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"COPPA applies in the same way it would if the channel owner had its own website or app," the FTC says. "If a channel owner uploads content to a platform like YouTube, the channel might meet the definition of a "website or online service" covered by COPPA, depending on the nature of the content and the information collected."

In other words, channel owners may not personally collect or view information protected under COPPA, but they must comply nonetheless.

"Many creators around the world have created quality kids content for their audiences, and these changes will have a significant impact," YouTube added. "We're committed to helping creators navigate this new landscape and to supporting our ecosystem of family content. We'll share more in the coming months."

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