• The FTC Has Released a Response to the COPPA Outrage - Clarified, but Still Vague

    After a week of intense internet outrage, the Federal Trade Commission has released a blog post over on their main website going into detail about the Google lawsuit, along with extra information on COPPA as a whole and how it will be used going forward.

    While they have put to rest a few rumors and clarified what exactly they go after, it still does leave a lot of things in a somewhat "gray" area.

    Head on down below for the details!

    Lets start from the top on this one since we kinda skipped it in the last post. COPPA's goal is to essentially disable the ability for advertisers to directly target kids  (anyone under 13) on the internet via the usual data collection that goes on behind the scenes whenever you visit anything. If it has advertisements, chances are it's directing them at you. This has been the norm for over a decade now.

    COPPA adds a penalty, which is one of the reasons why websites have had the "no accounts if you are under 13" rule for ages now. Obviously, kids use the internet anyway. So advertisers ended up using their data regardless, and this is what ended up nailing Google in the end. If Google wants to track kids on Youtube and serve them ads elsewhere, they would require parental consent under the law. Obviously, this is pretty much impossible.

    Youtube's response is a heavy handed, almost trollish approach to counter the FTC's near-impossible rules. They've essentially disabled everything on things "directed at children" and pointed at the FTC to deal with the outrage.

    The FTC's blog post has a few interesting nuggets of information for creators worried about the future of their channels if they happen to cover a brand that might be associated with children:

    "Just because your video has bright colors or animated characters doesn’t mean you’re automatically covered by COPPA. While many animated shows are directed to kids, the FTC recognizes there can be animated programming that appeals to everyone."

    However, things are still a little vague:

    On the other hand, if your content includes traditional children’s pastimes or activities, it may be child-directed. For example, the FTC recently determined that an online dress-up game was child-directed.
     ... it might help to consider how others view your content and content similar to yours. Has your channel been reviewed on sites that evaluate content for kids? Is your channel – or channels like yours – mentioned in blogs for parents of young children or in media articles about child-directed content? Have you surveyed your users or is there other empirical evidence about the age of your audience?

    That is where things get tricky. While you may be creating your pony video for fellow pony addicted adults, it's pretty much inevitable that kids will be a large part of the audience if it really picks up. They absolutely dominate the site. It's not adults watching and rewatching fortnite videos 24/7 and obsessing over specific Youtubers like they are their best friends.

    "Um... you know I'm not actually real right ponylover2013?"

    Before you hit your comment section on your favorite video and freak out at all the obvious kids blabbering away, the FTC seems to be hinting throughout their post that they are mainly targeting channels that take advantage of kids. Specifically the half-assed Elsa animations, Baby Shark songs and variants, or goofy voiced toy reviewers who obviously just want to keep kids binge-watching their cringeworthy content.

    The issue is, it's one of those laws that is not set in stone. At the end of the day, it's entirely up to them if you are in that category or not, and that's what understandably scares people. Will your video attract a large child following that would be a red flag for the FTC if they decided to investigate? Do you have to do everything in your power to avoid being mentioned by "mommy bloggers" as their kids favorite thing to watch after school?  It's hard to trust a government entity with your livelihood as a Youtuber, especially with how unstable it already is with people trolling via copyright strikes and reports.

    The FTC actually released their full document for the Youtube lawsuit, with pages 10-14 going over various examples of places where kids are the target. Included in the mix is a specific mention of My Little Pony being served up on the Hasbro channel. A large chunk of pony videos created by fans over the years could easily be mixed directly into their content stream without anyone noticing a difference. The FTC used Hasbro's announced target demographic of 5-8 for pony as part of the evidence against Google in the lawsuit.

    In the end, we can't really give out any realistic advice here for channel owners, as there isn't any. We know the FTC checks "About Us" sections on Youtube for people that mention kids there, but how exactly do they judge if a pony channels actual content is for kids? Do you need to be as obvious as possible by filling your channel with mature topics and humor? There are so many pony Youtubers out there who keep their content squeaky clean. Analysers, reactors, comic dubbers, pony VA impersonators, cute style animators, and loads of others who all would definitely attract kids like mad, while an outsider looking in would just see a channel for kids. When our parent brand has been fully embraced by COPPA as a kid-oriented concept, it leaves pony in a very weird place.

    The light at the end of the tunnel is at least their re-assurance that the penalty for failing to comply is definitely adjusted based on how financially secure the group they are targeting is. A solo analyser who barely makes anything off their channel probably wouldn't be hit by much in the tiny chance that they bother them at all. Personally, I think they will  focus on using their ruling to hit the channels that openly and specifically prey on kids rather than our fanbase that creates content for everyone. With My Little Pony getting a specific mention though, It's too difficult to really judge.

    You can read their full response over here.