YouTube’s new measures to ensure the protection of children’s privacy came into effect globally from January 6, 2020. These steps were announced by CEO Susan Wojcicki in September 2019. The actions, that come after a series of complaints and a fine by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the New York Attorney General, are aimed at tackling concerns raised about the website’s harvesting of children data. The FTC also released its own guidelines in November to help content creators in deciding their audience setting.

The changes that have been made include:

  1. New data collection practices for children’s content on YouTube: Treat all viewers of children’s content as children, regardless of age of the user, and make the following changes:
    • Limit data collection, collect only what is necessary to support service operations
    • Stop serving personalised ads: FTC had, in early July 2019, proposed that YouTube could disable advertising on individual channels to ensure compliance with law instead of setting up a different platform for children’s content.
    • Disable certain features such as comments and notifications
  2. Identify content for children via self-designation by creators, and use machine learning to find videos that target kids
  3. Mitigate effect on family and kids creators by working with them.

FTC releases new guidelines

One of the takeaways from this development is a new audience setting requirement where content creators have to specify whether or not their content is “made for kids”. YouTube said that it relies on the creators to set their own audience setting, although the company will also utilize machine learning to do the same.

Many questions were raised to YouTube seeking more clarity on content that would be classified as “made for kids”. According to YouTube, content is not made for kids if children see it. It has to be intentionally directed towards kids.

FTC released its own guidelines in November to aid creators in this decision. According to them, there are certain considerations that channel owners can use to determine if their content is directed towards children. Some of these include the subject matter, visual content, music and other audio content, age of models, etc.

As per YouTube, if some videos target children whereas others do not, creators can mark at the individual video level. If done at the channel level it will set all videos as “made for kids”. If the entire channel is marked, then it will not have any stories, community tab, notification bell, and the viewers will not be able to save to watch later.

Impact on creators

The move may have a significant impact on certain content creators.

Personalized advertisements and notifications are not permitted on videos made for kids as they rely on user data and must be limited to comply with the law. Thus, creators who deal in this domain may have their revenue affected by it. Some creators have raised concerns over this and believe that it could impact them and also the content made for kids.

Since Alphabet does not disclose detailed financial information on the unit, it is unclear what the financial impact of the changes might be for the company, The Washington Post reported.

If the content is made for kids, videos may still be eligible for non-personalised ads. These are ads based on the context of the video instead of the personal data of the user. YouTube also said that they are making other monetizing features COPPA compliant to provide content creators with other sources of revenue.

YouTube Kids

The official blog post by YouTube encourages parents to use YouTube kids if they allow children under 13 to watch videos independently. They also mentioned that YouTube Kids has made certain improvements in the platform. For instance

  • Parents will be able to control the YouTube Kids experience through the signed-in support system that this platform will offer.

We had written earlier about how some of the security features of YouTube Kids are easy to get around. For instance:

  • A video that had been blocked still appeared in the profile of the child. Moreover, blocked videos are not saved and thus are unblocked once the user signs out.
  • The app asks simple arithmetic questions like 5×8, 7×4 to access app settings. Since the app is meant for kids up to the age of 13, these are relatively easy obstacles to get through.

COPPA Recap: The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is a US federal law that protects the privacy of children under 13. Under COPPA, personal information includes not just first and last name but also “persistent identifiers”, according to the FTC website. These are “behind-the-scenes code that recognizes a user over time and across different sites or online services” such as IP address, cookies to serve targeted ads, etc.