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Last update: November 2019

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YouTube Pushes for COPPA Compliance by Flagging Children’s Content

Video-streaming platform YouTube has run into stumbling blocks regarding child-friendliness before. Suggested video algorithms, addictive potential of autoplay, and data processing need to be monitored differently for younger users. Until recently, YouTube has not taken that into account as seriously as they should. Earlier in 2019, Google paid the FTC a $170 million settlement for YouTube’s alleged violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This involved the collection and processing of the data of minors below the age of 13 without consent from their parent or guardian. Now it appears YouTube is interested in making amends for its COPPA infractions by launching a new content system. What could this mean for targeted marketing, and the future state of data processing for content streaming platforms?

YouTube film

YouTube COPPA Compliance

YouTube’s new video flagging system goes into effect January 2020. Under the new regulations, any content deemed to be directed at children will have to be labeled by its creators. YouTube will then block all data collection for all users watching flagged video, regardless of age. This is certainly a drastic approach, and it’s admirable that YouTube is determined to make up for their past mistakes and protect younger viewers.

Those in the industry who were following the story of YouTube’s settlement with the FTC knew that the solution they came up with would be something game-changing. There was even some talk of YouTube moving all of their children’s content to their YouTube Kids app.

However, there is a good deal of uncertainty about the new flagging system. Some content creators and marketers fear this all-or-nothing approach of YouTube’s is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. And when all is said and done, it may not offer that much protection to children after all.

Is YouTube’s COPPA Push Really the Best Approach?

YouTube’s new approach to handling children’s content has a few blind spots that could prove problematic. Firstly, there is a grey area as to what exactly content “targeting” children consists of. When it comes to programs like Sesame Street, or educational cartoons for young learners, they should clearly be flagged. But what about crossover content, such as cartoons that can be enjoyed by children as well as adults? What about content that is appropriate for all ages?

Dan Eardley, who runs a YouTube channel that reviews collectible toys, creates such age-agnostic content. In an interview with The Verge, he describes his misgivings:

“If the FTC decides that [we] are indeed targeting children, we’ll be fined. That is frightening. It’s especially scary because the verbiage of ‘kid directed’ vs ‘kid attractive’ isn’t very clear,” he continued. “It’s hard to know if we’re in violation or not.”

Here lies another weakness of YouTube’s new data privacy policy: the onus is on content creators to flag their videos appropriately. This means individual creators must interpret YouTube’s vague guidelines themselves. Not only does this leave children and families vulnerable to unethical channels who may exploit the regulation’s vagueness, it may also be damaging to content creators who misinterpret what constitutes “kid directed.” Either way you look at it, it guarantees inefficiencies.

Personalization While Remaining COPPA-Compliant

YouTube’s no-holds-barred approach to regulating children’s content isn’t perfect. But it’s a step in the right direction. YouTube is showing they’re willing to make amends to past oversights. However, their choice to leave content-flagging to the creators is mind-boggling and leaves dangerous blind spots. Aside from the above-mentioned problems, the policy fails to protect children who may watch content above their age bracket.

Legal sticklers may argue that it’s not YouTube’s fault if kids watch videos not intended for minors. But would you deny under-13s content like cooking shows, DIY tutorials, podcasts, history documentaries, and so on? Besides, this argument would make it seem like YouTube’s motivations in their new policy is less to protect children and more to cover their own tracks.

It is unrealistic to expect every YouTube channel that produces content a child might watch to flag their videos for shutdown of data processing. It is also unnecessary. Even attempting such a drastic move would result in the crippling of YouTube’s personalization algorithms. Viewers would then receive generic suggestions of videos to watch, rather than examples of content that they will most likely enjoy. What’s more, it would result in millions of dollars missed out on ad revenue.

So what is a realistic solution for YouTube?

OpenBack Offers COPPA-Compliant Personalization Tools

When it comes to personalizing push notifications, OpenBack offers mobile engagement tools that brings COPPA-compliance by default to the table. In our patent-pending platform that uses edge computing and machine learning, OpenBack lets your mobile app leverage user data at its source, without removing it from the individual user’s device or having to store it in third-party servers such as APNS or Firebase.

This means you can personalize your user’s push notification experience – in YouTube’s case, they could send users tailor-made suggestions for channels or videos they would enjoy – while respecting their privacy and staying compliant to COPPA, GDPR, and other data privacy regulations. This is also handy for conveying any other personalized communications to your users. These could involve information about trending content, new channels they might enjoy, or updates to user terms and privacy policy.

Combining an ethical approach to data security (simply go to the OpenBack dashboard and select the GDPR, COPPA, and HIPAA-compliant mode) with cutting-edge technology and focus on a great user experience, OpenBack gives you the tools to built a strong, engaging relationship with your users.

Are you interested in learning more? Talk with one of our experts to hear about how OpenBack can help you optimize user engagement.

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