January 3, 2020
This month, Alphabet-owned YouTube will begin limiting the data it collects on children’s videos and stop showing data-driven personalized ads. Video creators will be responsible for designating their content as targeting children and will face Federal Trade Commission fines if they do not do so. The FTC also won’t allow comments or other features such as pop-ups meant to increase viewership. The new data collection limits will likely have negative financial implications for creators of free kids’ content.
The Wall Street Journal reports that “the change will squeeze the ad dollars that Google shares with creators … [which] could result in less child-friendly content on the platform.” Federal law requires websites aimed at children to get parental consent before harvesting data about children. With the change, YouTube will now “assume a child is watching if the content is clearly directed” at children. But it will continue to collect data on all viewers — even if that includes children — on videos aimed at “a broader audience.”
The FTC, which received 175,000+ submissions as part of a “broad review of children’s privacy rules,” originally alleged that YouTube “has been tracking children’s online activities in violation of the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.” YouTube never admitted guilt, but did pay a $170 million fine and “agreed to create a system to flag videos designed for children.”
WSJ notes that “supporting the changes are federal regulators, privacy advocates and YouTube itself.” Children’s videos will still be able to run contextual ads, which are “based on a post’s content or other information.” Creators, however, aren’t happy, and they are “protesting the new system and urging their fans to do the same, flooding the FTC with demands to leave YouTube alone.”
YouTube pays creators on views and ads and has told creators to expect less revenue without targeted ads. “YouTube and the FTC entered into a settlement that I feel in a lot of ways throws creators under the bus,” said Jeremy Johnston, whose family-oriented J House Vlogs channel has nearly 2 million subscribers.
FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Andrew Smith “said he is sympathetic to the concerns of creators but also understands concerns about children’s privacy” and is thus looking “to strengthen the rule to make it work better for children and parents.” Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood executive director Josh Golin noted, “Google should have been obeying the law and the creators wouldn’t be in this mess.”
Although YouTube operates YouTube Kids for children under 13, without personalized ads, “the main YouTube platform consistently ranks among the most popular brands with children under 13.” The FTC found evidence that YouTube has not only known that fact, but used it “as a selling point with advertisers.”