YouTube FinedWell, maybe not an entire generation.  But if you were blessed with one or more teenagers at your Thanksgiving table, you probably heard about the (apocalyptic!) changes YouTube is about to make due to the FTC’s recent $170,000,000 fine.  Comments likely included:  Does anyone at the FTC even Internet?  Do they use cell phones?  Paper permission forms– are you kidding me?  I want to go to law school.  How much– Seriously?!

OK, let’s back up a minute.  YouTube and its parent company Google were fined for allegedly violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by tracking the video habits of children ages 6-13 and sending them targeted ads.  Google, while not admitting liability, is nonetheless overhauling YouTube in order to comply with the settlement.  Impending changes include:

  1. Content creators whose videos appeal to children must now label them as “child-directed” content.
  2. These “child-directed” videos will be excluded from Google’s data collection and lucrative personalized advertisement platform (thus earning less money).
  3. Content creators are responsible for determining whether or not their videos appeal to children.
  4. Creators may incur a $42,000 fine per video and no, YouTube will not help them.
  5. The FTC does not have an appeals process.
  6. Parents must give verifiable consent for data to be collected on their children and…

The Consequences

We are starting to get a little indigestion.  Let’s just say the ruling has frightened YouTube content creators and outraged a lot of fans.  Of course Google should not make money by tracking children’s data and targeting ads to them.  However, there are a ton of homegrown videos on YouTube that are quirky, fun, and hard to quantify (which is why the site is so popular).  Are gaming videos, cat video medleys, toy reviews or family vlogs “child-directed” content?  Must creators now choose between losing ad money or a possible devastating fine?

To be clear, we are not talking about petty cash, but livelihoods.  YouTube is the 2nd most visited website in the world with over 30 million visitors per day.  In the United States, YouTube reaches more 18-49 year olds than any cable network, and 9% of small businesses have a YouTube presence.  YouTube videos translate directly into cash for many, many people.

Why the FTC Cracked Down

However, 83% of American kids ages 6-12 also watch YouTube daily.  Which of course, is why the FTC cracked down.  The site was never supposed to be for kids.  Kids found it anyway.   Children’s viewing habits were (allegedly!) tracked along with everyone else’s, which violates the law.  COPPA exists to protect children from being tracked and targeted by advertisers.  The spirit of the law is unarguably good.

However, COPPA took effect in 2000 and was last amended in 2013.  Has it kept up with technology?  Is it being applied fairly?

Ask any teenager, a YouTube child of yesterday.  We bet you’ll receive a comprehensive, well-researched answer.  It’s not surprising, given their love for a site that’s taught them everything from how to bake a perfect cheesecake to basic Japanese phrases.

And they haven’t even been to law school yet.  If you’re lucky, they might fix your pesky cell phone glitches, too.

Article by Molly Fuscher

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