This column first appeared in the November 24, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
YouTube and Google were fined a record $170 million in September for violating an online child privacy law.
The ripple effects of that settlement now are hitting YouTube users, especially content creators who’ve turned their popular channels into thriving online businesses.
According to the FTC, YouTube channels collected personal information from children without parental consent. That’s a big no-no in online privacy.
Many of these children are the “fans” or viewers of YouTube channels. Apparently, kids were giving up personal data without them or their parents knowing it.
At question are the rules outlined in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
COPPA requires online services with child-specific content to get permission from the parents before collecting information from users under 13.
YouTube allegedly used identifying information (i.e., cookies) to track the browsing habits of children. Of course, many sites do this to target us with specific ads.
“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.”
This doesn’t bode well for the thousands of content creators who’ve turned the art of creating children’s content into successful businesses. This is because there’s more to the YouTube settlement than just a hefty fine.
YouTube is also required to implement a system that requires channel owners to label their content as “child-directed.” This part has always sort of existed on YouTube.
This is meant to ensure that YouTube is complying with COPPA.
More recently, and why this causing grief for some content creators, YouTube is notifying channel owners that their content is subject to COPPA. This means either some or all videos could be removed.
YouTube also is required to provide COPPA rules training for employees about how they deal with YouTube channel owners.
To better explain the new rules, YouTube posted a video of its own on Nov. 12, and circulated it to all creators. It features “Lauren” who describes changes to the upload process, videos and monetization — how channel owners make money from their videos.
The biggest complaint from channel owners centers on that last part — monetization. Changes to content policies for children will lead to losses in revenue, not only for child-directed content creators, but for YouTube as well.
How much of a loss is uncertain, but it’s likely to pale in comparison to YouTube and Google’s $170 million fine.
Another complaint: there are too many unknowns in YouTube’s new rules. For example, what constitutes child-directed content? If content creators make videos for people over the age of 13, but kids are watching them, who decides if something is “child-directed?”
This means fewer viral videos. Access to comments will be gone, as will end screens where creators promote other videos and sell merchandise. Watchlists, stories and notification bells will disappear.
How much revenue will be lost for content creators is uncertain.
What seems certain is that we will see far fewer videos for children on YouTube in coming months.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is special assistant to the provost and professor of communication in the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes on a variety of topics including communication technologies, relationships, and sports (with an emphasis on fandom). His work has appeared in Mahoning Matters as well as The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers.