Made for Kids! The new child protection policy on YouTube

Source: PewdiePie Youtube / Video: Morgz is canceled

Surely in recent days, you, a regular YouTube consumer, have visualized a new Terms and Conditions policy on the platform. The reason? Both Google and YouTube had to pay a fine of 170 millions of dollars for breaching the COPPA regulations (Children´s Online Privacy Protection Act by its acronym in English) that seeks, in good account, to protect the privacy of children on the internet.

Thus, in order to comply with this law, YouTube has begun to adapt its portal. However, both these new policies as well as COPPA itself have received various criticisms. This new policy, some point out, will not only affect the creators of the platform's content, but will also harm those who precisely want to protect: children.

Here, I will explain, step by step, each of the points you need to know about this interesting controversy.

When the bomb exploded: The greatest fine in history.

In September of the 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of the United States sanctioned Google and YouTube for violating COPPA regulations. Indeed, according to the FTC, YouTube, through persistent identifiers that are used to track users through the internet (cookies), collected personal information from children under 13 years without previously notifying parents of this action and requesting Your consent.

And it is that YouTube, despite being declared a platform for people over 13, in recent years it was commercially presented as a top-level destination for children to manufacturers of popular products and brands. In fact, according to the FTC, both Google and YouTube told Mattel (Barbie and Monster High) and Hasbro (My Little Poney and Play-Doh) that this platform is a leader in terms of reaching children between 6 and 11 years compared to conventional TV channels[1]. All the information collected by YouTube served to generate valuable income to the portal.

Font: FTC News

In this regard, the COPPA Law for the protection of the privacy of the child has been in force since the year 1998; however, it wasn't until almost twenty (20) years after YouTube started applying it[2]. This "error" earned the company nothing less than 170 millions of dollars.

Such figure is the highest fine of all those imposed for violation of privacy on the internet, which creates an important precedent in the history of fines imposed by the FTC.

Font: FTC News

The new rules of the game

As part of the deal that YouTube reached with the FTC, now on, if the channel or video is “content for children,” the following measures will apply:

  • The ability to post comments on videos will be disabled.
  • It will not be notified when a new video is uploaded.
  • Access to the “community” function will not be given
  • Custom advertising will not be shown, therefore, the possibility of monetizing the video will fall dramatically[3].
Source: YouTube Creators Available in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JzXiSkoFKw

Criticisms and comments

The criticisms were swift. Here are some of the most important:

The million dollar question: What qualifies as made for kids?

Given the rules of the game, each content creator must determine if their video qualifies as created for children. However, remotely YouTube, using its machine learning system, will be responsible for making this rating. Therefore, the question is to determine what really qualifies as "created for children."

The question, in principle, is easy to answer: made for kids means videos whose target are clearly children (under 13 years). However, for YouTube, “for children” content will not only be determined taking into account the theme of the video, but (i) if children or children's characters appear in it, (ii) if popular animated characters appear among children; (iii) if there are stories related to toys; and, (iv) if children's songs, stories or poems are used among others.

In this regard, I do not doubt that these standards are not reasonable. Certainly, most videos that today contain these elements are really aimed at children (their target). But, there is something that worries the creators of content and is that the application of Machine Learning It will ultimately determine whether the content is for children or not.

This machine, some point out, does not know about contexts, does not know about circumstances, senses of humor and examples. This was already evident in its application with cases of copyright that day by day demonetizes legitimate content under the fair use.

So, for example, even though the content of a unboxing of action figures or analysis of children's films are of adult content, machine learning can rate it as made for kids and apply all new changes.

Font: Twitter of content creator Pixel Dan in which he points out that YouTube has cataloged its content as for children

What does this new measure generate in the long run?

Even if the Machine Learning It works perfectly (that is, it accurately identifies channels or videos of children's content), the truth is that the measure that is implemented on YouTube will generate consequences, at least on two levels.

The first level of consequence is clearly a tendency to design more and more “adult” content. This is because not being able to monetize content for children, the channels will be forced to change their public address and design another more mature product. This decrease in channels for children in itself represents a negative aspect of the measure.

Instead of creating an environment conducive to the development of quality content for children, YouTube (now more than ever) will become a hostile portal for its development. This is because the measure that is being implemented will not cause fewer children to stop watching YouTube, it will simply make them look for other channels that are not necessarily directed to them.

A second level of impact is related to YouTube content. In theory, this platform "watches" because the content that is disseminated on its portal is Family friendly That is, videos that all members of a family (including, obviously, children) can watch. If a creator of quality content, you want to monetize your videos you have to make your content famlily friendly but without falling into the category of made for kids. As we can see, this is a small area of ​​action in which from now on, content creators should work. In this regard, I believe that directing this way the creative quality in some way can host a level of censorship. This question, beyond, even of the present discussion, if I consider that it could be evaluated eventually by the FTC.

What should change: COPPA or YouTube Policy?

Following all this problem, some pointed out that YouTube was nothing more than a simple executor of the standard and that in any case, it was the COPPA regulation that had to be modified because its content did not conform to the current standards of the digital world .

In this regard, the COPPA law, from my point of view, does not require modification or at least does not require a structural adjustment. In simple words, the regulation of protection of minors in the digital world has correct foundations and is a fairly functional norm. The purpose of COPPA is to protect children from the violation of their privacy and to access this information it is requested (as certainly happens in most countries with data protection policies) the information and subsequent consent of parents to perform actions such as sending personalized advertising obtained through cookies.

The regulations protect something that YouTube did. The company collected personal information and used it to generate economic benefits. Part of this gain, I shared it with content creators but, it was essentially YouTube who had control of the information. Therefore, the fine of 170 million dollars.

What perhaps could be requested is a change in the policy that YouTube has implemented. It is important to remember that what COPPA regulations ask for is, in simple language, prior and informed consent to send specialized advertising. It does not restrict or prohibit the sending of it. And this is something that YouTube, from my consideration, does not intend to do.

The company does not want to design a mechanism (which we certainly understand is complicated) that allows parents to give their consent and, instead, has developed a more aggressive policy of eradicating interaction, shifting responsibility towards content creators.

So, if we strictly apply what COPPA indicates, the truth is that it is not necessary to demonetize the video and remove interaction options, but to look for another way to comply with the law. And that, for the moment and the way we perceive it, does not YouTube.

But not everything is bad. In recent years we have seen that the FTC (agency historically dedicated to the analysis of competition in the free market) is trying to learn from the digital world and wants to learn the management of this particular market. And since COPPA is reviewed every 10 every year, for the year 2023, this standard can be modified, establishing new friendlier policies, both for content creators and users. Therefore, the FTC is meeting with content creators to learn more about this market, so it is highly important to be part of the change.

Finally, in his November video of 2019, the well-known content creator PewDiePie pointed out, in a very correct way, the following: “(…) why is it YouTube or others' fault that your son is on the internet [without your permission ]? (…) It's never the fault of the parents, it's always the fault of someone else. ”

Indeed, in this case perhaps the real answer is not in prohibition and censorship, but in education and control.

Again, the problem is not technology but what we do with it.


Footnotes page:

[1] Federal Trade Commission. Google and YouTube Will Pay Record $ 170 Million for Alleged Violations of Children's Privacy La. Disponible en: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2019/09/google-youtube-will-pay-record-170-million-alleged-violations

[2] In the year 2013, the COPPA standard was modified in order to include the use of cookies as personal information.

[3] Specialized sites like TubeFilter point out that when a video doesn't have personalized adds Loses between 60% and 90% of your earnings. This compared to the general publicity that your channel will receive after the application of the new policies. Source: https://culturacolectiva.com/tecnologia/cambios-en-terminos-de-youtube-y-lo-que-significa

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María del Pilar Segura
Lawyer from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP). I am interested in issues related to Competition Law, Data Privacy and Digital Regulation. I believe in freedom with responsibility. Contact: mapi.segura@lawgictec.org

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