YouTube creators may also be held liable for COPPA violations, following FTC settlement

The FTC is imposing a historic fine of $170 million for YouTube’s violation of the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The settlement agreement will put increased responsibility on both YouTube and the content creators themselves to properly identify any child-directed content on the platform, as YouTube is now prohibited from collecting personal data from viewers of any of those videos. Creators who fail to comply with this new requirement may be penalized directly, the FTC revealed at a press conference this morning. This could include both civil penalties and their removal from the YouTube platform.

These specific consequences weren’t detailed in either the FTC or YouTube’s earlier statements about the settlement agreement, and serve to put the creator community on notice.

“We would have strong penalties in future cases against content creators and channel owners, as well — particularly when we would have a situation where the channel owner was specifically asked ‘are you child-directed?,’  and the channel owner said ‘No,” said Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Andrew Smith.

The ability to target children’s videos using behavioral advertising technology has been a profitable business for creators, so changes that require creators to dial things back could have encouraged some to try to skirt the new rules.

That was a concern, the FTC said, which is why it will continue to review YouTube content.

The regulator says when the order is fully implemented, it will perform a sweep of YouTube to identify any child-directed content that continues to collect personally identifiable information. It wouldn’t say how this sweep would work, on a technical level, or how it will be able to keep up with the huge influx of new content YouTube sees every day.

The FTC also promised other “consequences” for content creators who are not sincere or forthcoming about their content, which could include “being kicked off the YouTube platform,” it said.

YouTube isn’t likely to let it come to that, however.

“We also think that YouTube has a strong incentive to police its platform both to avoid future enforcement actions by the FTC, but also because it’s offering this platform to content creators,” Smith said. “And if the FTC is bringing independent piecemeal actions against content creators, for violating COPPA, that may discourage content creators from posting content on YouTube,” he added.

YouTube, itself, did not specify what sort of enforcement it would take itself against non-compliant creators, only that further information would be shared with the community ahead of the start of these new data practices — in about four months’ time.

At that point, YouTube says it will limit data collection on child-directed content and stop serving personalized ads on the videos. It will also turn off comments and notifications on these children’s videos. YouTube creators, meanwhile, will have a new checkbox where they’ll need to inform YouTube if their content is aimed at children in order to meet the new guidelines.

YouTube, additionally, plans to use machine learning techniques to identify other child-directed content — like videos featuring kids’ characters, toys and games, for example. It will then automatically bucket those items as also being children’s content and will limit the data collection taking place on those videos, too.

To be in violation of COPPA, the creator would have to leave this checkbox unchecked and avoid getting flagged through YouTube’s automated systems. (Or return to their videos to disable the designation at some point, perhaps.)

YouTube will have more to share in the coming weeks about the impacts to creators, the changes they’ll need to make and its plans for a new $100 million fund for kid-friendly YouTube content.