by Sasha Ryu
For many years, YouTube incentivized its creators to make ad-safe, “family-friendly” content — often spotlighting channels deemed to be ‘PG,’ and making it so that the website’s mysterious set of algorithms would prioritize influencers with younger audiences. During this time, viewers witnessed some of the biggest channels on the platform make significant changes to their content in order to accommodate the company’s demands. Many, for example, made it a point to stop swearing in their videos. To avoid video demonetization, mainstream influencers also started to avoid references to mature subjects, such as drugs and alcohol.
However, on Jan. 1, 2020, YouTube updated its Terms of Service policy, essentially making it so that ‘child-directed channels’ would see a cut to most, if not nearly all of their revenue.
In the months leading up to the infamous policy reforms, YouTube and Google paid a record settlement of 170 million dollars in response to information brought forward by the US Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General, which alleged that YouTube had been violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by illegally collecting personal information from children without their parents’ consent.
COPPA was designed in 1998 with the intention to protect children under the age of 13 by mandating that “operators of commercial websites and online services” obtain “verifiable parental consent” before collecting a child’s personal information. Beyond that, COPPA also requires operators to keep their child users’ information confidential and secure, and any personal information the child shares with the service must be deleted after it’s used to “fulfill the purpose for which it was collected.”
Before the company was prosecuted by the FTC, YouTube promoted itself as a ‘top destination’ for young viewers. For example, when addressing Mattel, the creator of Barbie dolls, officials at YouTube stated: “YouTube is today’s leader in reaching children age 6-11 against top TV channels.”
In the 14 years since its founding in 2005, the company knowingly violated the terms of the act by using cookies to deliver targeted ads (from children’s companies like Mattel) to ‘child-directed channels’ without notifying parents or getting their consent. This exploitive marketing strategy seems to have a direct connection to the company’s prioritization of ‘kid-friendly’ creators in previous years.
After the lawsuit, however, YouTube was forced to release a new set of policies to comply with COPPA. Currently, the company is putting the burden upon its creators, forcing users to designate their videos, or their entire channel, as made for kids — despite the fact that they haven’t put forward a clear set of requirements or guidelines as to what classifies something as ‘made for kids’ and what doesn’t.
When a creator proclaims itself a ‘child-directed’ channel, nearly all of their adsense revenue will disappear, given that YouTube is no longer legally allowed to place targeted ads on their videos. On top of that, if creators fail to identify themselves accurately, they risk civil penalties of “up to 42,530 dollars per violation.”
Now, kid-friendly creators are faced with somewhat of a lose-lose situation: either lose the majority of their adsense by self-designating as a ‘child-directed’ channel, or lie and risk the legal and financial consequences. Many, left with no other realistic options, have already begun to desert the platform.
(Sources: YouTube, FTC, New York Times)
(Photo Credits: TNS)