5 Reasons To Be Concerned About Coppa & 5 Reasons Not To Be
Updated: Nov 27, 2019
While our wonderful little corner of the internet is safe and sound for now, Youtube is , as always, under a new *Insert name*pocolypse. This newest downfall of humanity would be the COPPApocolypse threatening to wipe all your favorite channels out. Should you be worried?
Before we do our nice little organized list, a little background on what COPPA is and why it exists. Just to be clear, the FTC, while maybe misguided, is not the bad guy. They did their job and stopped Youtube's practice of using targeted ads on the most susceptible age range with internet access. If you've watched any videos or done any reading about this you're probably good to move ahead.
COPPA is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, originally pended in 1998 and updated 2013. The act is designed to protect children online against predators & predatory behavioral, targeted ads. Basically it stops websites or web services from recording personal information of anyone under the age of 12. This originally pertained name, phone number, email address, physical & mailing address and eventually tracking cookies in the 2013 update.
Reasons To Worry:
5. The Vague Verbiage
Currently everyone's trying to scramble to figure out several important definitions. Arguably the most important definitions would be for "Child Directed". While most of us would assume if your target audience isn't children you'd be fine, however that may not be the case.
The FTC uses a 10 factor test to determine if a piece of content is "Child Directed". Meaning you may not mean to make it for children, but it might be in the FTC's eyes. while I won't be outlining all 10 step, I'll be hitting the high points that could threaten Gunpla on Youtube. They look at the Subject Matter, Visual Content, the Activities, Does it Feature Characters popular with children and Empirical Evidence You're Target Audience isn't under the age of 12.
While the recommended ages on the boxes might suggest different, if 1 grade is considered "Child Directed", all grades would as the Subject Matter, Visual Content, Activities & Characters would all be effectively the same. While we can argue over the details, the FTC would see the same thing.
While none of the Gunpla related content creators overwhelmingly target children, that choice slowly starts to get taken from our hands by our audience, Youtube & the FTC. If a large percentage of our audience is in the 13-15 age range, it gets rather difficult to say these videos wouldn't interest a 12 year old. If Youtube's new algorithm selects your video as "Child Directed" or the FTC's sweep determines your target audiences is 12 and under, and you didn't mark video "Child Directed", well you're going to have a bad time.
4. Channels Are Now Treated As Their Own Website/Service
Due to the FTC/Youtube Settlement's Stipulated Order individual channels are now treated as their own website or service in the eyes of the FTC in regards to COPPA. What this means is that although we don't directly collect data, we're held just a liable as Youtube is.
Thus the creation of our new, corporate overlord's command to self identify our videos, even thought Youtube isn't really sure what is and is not "Child Directed". Now it's up to us to guess and risk the same penalties that a full on company, website or service would face. Keep in mind that the ad revenue on videos isn't split dead even between Youtube & Content Creators, while it can vary usually Youtube comes up with the bigger piece of pie.
This is where the FTC is most misguided, although it makes sense from their technical perspective. In the past this view point has been used by the FTC when dealing with 3rd party plugs in's and to an similar extent Musically AKA Tic Tok AKA new aged worse Vine. From the FTC's point of view, content creators benefits from the data collected by Youtube and are thus encouraged us to create more content that attracts a larger audience. So while you may not be collecting the data yourself, you're still drawing people to the platform that does.
3. The Total Lack Of Good Faith By Youtube
Not that this is a shock to anyone who's been on Youtube for more than a few minutes but Youtube isn't exactly known for being protective of their content creators. If you've ever worked in retail or a fast food joint, just think of your relationship with your General Manager. Usually not a good time and most of the time you feel super replaceable.
Not only does Youtube have a bad track record of this but the steps to correct and fall in line with the FTC's stipulated order, show they shoved all the burden on content creators. There have been many videos talking about the different methods Youtube could've used in order to come comply with COPPA & the stipulated order.
Many people think an age gate or some form of "Kid" account through a service like Youtube Kids would've been better, but let's not forget the FTC was the one that defined us as "Operators", but Youtube didn't seems to fight them on that point either. They've pretty much stepped back to let the FTC go after whoever they want.
2. To Go Where No Man's Gone Before
So what if all this goes the worst possible way and you're facing down a $42,000+ fine? you get a lawyer if you can afford one, and find one. A large problem is that fact that none of this has been tried in a court. No one's ever had to argue the target audience for model kits or action figures, at least in this context.
Not only will the FTC have a little more leverage but outside of the few lawyers that know the inner workings of Youtube, there's not an overflow of these specialized professionals. There are so many gray areas and unknowns that it's be a really interesting case for everyone else watching, but likely a hell for you.
There would likely be 2 main arguments that it'd boil down to. The target audience and are you really in a position to be just a liable as Youtube. While we don't know how this would turn out, we can imagine the FTC's got some solid lawyers.
1. The List
One of the most over looked things in the videos covering this whole event would be the 20 channels listed in the complaint as examples of "Kid Directed" content. While this isn't definitive this gives us a better idea of what the FTC 's views are. The good and the bad is that we know how to compare, the problem is knowing how we compare.
While some of the biggest channels on that list are nursery rhymes, the smaller channels worry me more. Half of the channels we corporately owned and feature some familiar names you might have heard of, such as Hasbro, Mattel, Cartoon Network & Dreamworks. While most of the content is cartoon based, let's not forget the "Featuring Characters Popular With Children" factor in the FTC's 10 panel test.
There are two others that you can find in the complaint that are Toy/Video Game channels, while not the exact same, it's not a far leap to go from Iron Man to Mechs. Especially when the same company makes Iron Man figures for the same age range.
Reasons To Not Worry:
5. The Logistics
One of the funniest things about this whole conundrum is the utter lack of manpower the FTC has for their "Manuel Reviews". While I don't think they'll be totally ineffective, I think their metaphor of Fish in a Barrel is apt. I'll explain more about that but let's just say Youtbe's the biggest barrel in the world.
One thing that was brought up by the press in the FTC's press conference after the Youtube settlement, was the massive amount of content uploaded to Youtube every single minute and the small number of employees the FTC employees. For a little math, the entire FTC, not just the Bureau over COPPA, employees a little over 1,100 people. The last number for hours of video uploaded every minute was at 500 hours, every single minute. Now this was before the whole COPPA thing, but even if it was cut in half, every 2 minutes would bring 500 hours of video. I think the FTC's going to need more people.
Now we don't entirely know what the FTC has up their sleeve and they didn't really answer the presse's questions on the matter, we can assume they aren't that insane. While they said they didn't trust machine learning and algorithms, it's still very likely that will be the first line and then the manual reviews will begin. Or they are totally insane and will have a huge mental health problem with their staff after watching Youtube videos for 8-10 hours a day every day for years.
4. The Vague Verbiage
The problem is also part of the solution, as it'd be almost just a hard for the FTC to convince people that model kits are more focused on kids under 12 than 13 or 14. So far, in terms of COPPA, the FTC's really only gone for things they had a good, strong case against and will likely hold to that tradition.
While the might have more experience than we do as individual, it's still not a walk in the park. There is so much gray area to traverse in the world of these definitions that it could be anyone's game.
3. Court Problem
One thing most people haven't thought about is the scale of the sweeps their imagining. While people are thinking thousands of channels will be taken down, they haven't though about the problem that is the potential resulting court appearances, or at least the paper work. While it wouldn't be a criminal offense, unless the Department of Justice wanted a piece, which is doubtful since they passed on the Youtube case, it would still be a civil case.
If you've ever had to go to court, or even the DMV your know how ill equip the government is at handling large amounts of people with large amounts of paper work. While not the same thing, it still a reality that court proceedings are long drawn out affair, unless you go into arbitration or settle.
The FTC knows this and wouldn't waste their time with suits they know likely won't pay out. Why go after Gunpla Network when you have the same chance, if not a better chance of winning against someone like Pewdie, who also would be a lot more likely to have enough in financial gains from that ad revenue and sponsorship.
2. The Stretch of The Imagination
One of the more argued points is the validity of the defining content creators as "Operators" or being just as much at fault as the Youtube itself. While the FTC's treating this relationship like a website/3rd party plug in relationship, it's significantly different.
While typically there is some form of a business contract, laying out the boundaries, roles and operating procedures, even being a partner with Yotube isn't close to that. The content creator's relationship with Youtube is much looser and one sided. While we do get access to analytics and our audience's, we don't have any say or control outside of that. Even if we start to stray outside of the content that's working well for Youtube, we risk financial and audience based failures. That's not to say you can't make different types of content, but it get's a lot more concerning when it's your job.
1. The Barrel
As I alluded to before, the FTC sees Youtube as a barrel that the content creator fish are trapped in. While it is true that all the content is in one place, it's like saying all the sand in in the Sahra Desert. Duh. Of course it is, but that doesn't make it any easier to tell which sand might be focusing on children.
The FTC's employee number problem is only made worse by the vast, ocean sized barrel they have to shoot at. Sure they'll hit some fish and feel pretty good about it, but you're not going to hit much in the grand scheme. A more accurate depiction would be fishery just filled with fish, like packed to the gills. They'l get some channels but out of the 23 million channels on Youtube right now, how many can they really hope to take out?