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New YouTube Changes to Protect Kids Range From Vague to Utter BS

This might not really be enough.

After years of complaints and fines, YouTube is finally implementing changes meant to make it fully compliant with COPPA, the Childhood Privacy Protection Act, the main federal law pertaining to kids’ safety online. Is it wild that the site, one of the most visited on the planet, wasn’t already complying with federal law? Absolutely! These changes are definitely too late and, at least as they stand now, too little to really put parents’ minds at ease.

The changes are part of the $170 million settlement the company, a subsidiary of internet behemoth and Google-owner Alphabet, made with the FTC and the New York State Attorney General back in September. According to an FTC blog post, “YouTube and Google agreed to create a mechanism so that channel owners can designate when the videos they upload to YouTube are – to use the words of COPPA – ‘directed to children.'”

The factors that the FTC (and, by extension, YouTube) will consider are:

  • the subject matter,
  • visual content,
  • the use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives,
  • the kind of music or other audio content,
  • the age of models,
  • the presence of child celebrities or celebrities who appeal to children,
  • language or other characteristics of the site,
  • whether advertising that promotes or appears on the site is directed to children, and
  • competent and reliable empirical evidence about the age of the audience.

Since November, the site has allowed creators to label their contents as directed at kids, while also using machine learning to tag videos as kid directed. It has not revealed the specifics of this mechanism.

But all of this is subjective, and the uncertainty about what is or isn’t children’s content is causing a fair amount of heartburn among content creators who stand to lose out on tons of advertising revenue, as the site will essentially assume that all viewers of those videos are minors and no longer push ads to them.

Instead, it will push YouTube Kids, an app aimed at younger audiences with a smaller, filtered selection of content.

“If the FTC decides that [we] are indeed targeting children, we’ll be fined. That is frightening. It’s especially scary because the verbiage of ‘kid directed’ vs ‘kid attractive’ isn’t very clear,” Dan Eardley, a content creator who reviews collectible toys on YouTube, told The Verge, adding “It’s hard to know if we’re in violation or not.”

This move undoubtedly sucks for the folks who make money with kid-adjacent content on the site, particularly as the FTC has signaled that it will go after individuals who upload videos to YouTube in addition to the site itself.

And while this is a step in the right direction, none of these changes are enough to truly put parents’ minds at ease, given the uncertainty around what is and isn’t kids’ content and the myriad other ways the site has been used to harm kids.