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Monday, November 18, 2019

Catastrophic: YouTube Culls Comments For COPPA

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Rated E for everyone? Off with your head!

At the beginning of September, Google-owned YouTube got wrecked by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with a record-breaking $170 million settlement for boisterously violating the Child's Online Privacy Protection Act, henceforth known as COPPA. This act serves to prevent online properties—like YouTube—from knowingly collecting private information from kids, defined as those under 13 years old. That ended up being what YouTube was doing, collecting information on anyone (including kids) who viewed videos, and knowingly, too. Check out that press release for some quotes catching Google red-handed, including them telling toy makers Mattel and/or Hasbro, “YouTube is today's leader in reaching children age 6–11 against top TV channels.”

No one really paid any attention to this until last week, when YouTube sent an e-mail to every channel owner telling us that there is mandatory, important action we, YouTube channel owners, need to take, in one of three methods:
  1. Automatically mark our channel (and every video inside) as not-for-kids. YouTube will continue to collect all viewers’ information who watch these videos
  2. Automatically mark our channel (and every video inside) as for-kids. YouTube won't collect viewers’ private information on these videos
  3. Mark each and every video individually as either for-kids or not-for-kids

If you mark this incorrectly and the FTC feels like prosecuting you, you can be fined up to $42,350 per violation—that's per video. (You probably wouldn't get fined over $170 million, though, if you happen to have 4,015 YouTube videos or more.)

There's no safe, easy answer, as demonstrated in this 2x2 matrix I made:

YouTube COPPA marking videos as safe for kids matrix consequences getting it wrong
If your interpretation of your video's audience and the FTC's interpretation differ...
Then you may get fined and/or your channel may be shut down.
Note: The upper-left happy face still has to deal with the YouTube feature restrictions listed below, which are not happy.

If you mark your video as for-kids, Google/YouTube won't be collecting any data from the viewers for that video. That means you won't be seen as a profitable partner for YouTube, since absorbing your information is what their business model is. After all, they will have a new terms of service effective December 10, 2019 that states,
“YouTube may terminate your access, or your Google account’s access to all or part of the Service if YouTube believes, in its sole discretion, that provision of the Service to you is no longer commercially viable.” 
Scary stuff. Know this: Google got in trouble with the FTC because of Google's business practices. Google wants to still continue their business practices, so they're shifting responsibility from them to us, the people who upload the content. We're all in possible trouble for the benefit and profit of Google.

Marking your video for kids also will result in a lot of other problems that make YouTube not a worthwhile place to upload video content. You won't have any of these things:

    Personal advertising
    Channel branding watermark
    Donate button
    Cards or end screens
    Live chat or live chat donations
    Notification bell
    Playback in the Miniplayer
    Super Chat or Super Stickers
    Save to playlist 
No comments section? How am I going to know what's really on the minds of the fans all around the world? A large proportion of value from YouTube is reading the comments sections. A lot of it are stupid “memes” (popular right now are people naming “no one:”, doing a line break, and then naming a person or group and giving them dialogue—meant to represent someone having an unpopular opinion or course of action) but how would I know, for example, that “99.99% of the comments” thought Yoku's Island Express was “Yoshi's Island Express” without comments? Or that many Fortnite players don't know how to read Fortnite's end-user license agreement? (To my knowledge, they're all aged 13 or over.) Yes, trawling YouTube comments usually reveals that, on average, people are stupid, but that's good information to have.

Anticipate Nintendo's YouTube channel's comments sections to be (almost) entirely shut down come January. Anticipate the same for content creators based around Nintendo, or companies like it.

Naturally, you may also be in violation of YouTube's policies if you tell kids they can watch a video but it's actually inappropriate for them.

What if you say nothing is for kids? That's pretty much the world as it existed pre-COPPA settlement. YouTube will take in data and put cookies on everyone who views your videos. If they're kids, or the audience might conceivably be kids, and you know this to be true because you went out of your way to review your own content, you could be in trouble. And you could be in trouble not because you did anything wrong, but a bureaucrat might think, “hey, this looks like cute and cartoon-y. Must have tweens as the audience!” Then you'll have to go to court and that's tough and expensive. And the best defence attorney around is not only disbarred, but homeless and probably on drugs.

The harder, but safer option is to individually mark your videos according to your best guess for how an FTC bureaucrat would interpret them. You won't know exactly what they'll consider acceptable, of course, and YouTube recommends you hire a lawyer. (Many laws exist to pad the pockets of compliance lawyers.) That may involve a lot of manual labour depending on how many videos you already have, of course. Perhaps it's better to just delete that history...

I don't really know what I'm gonna do with my YouTube channel, though the Sexy Poker Let's Play is an easy one to deem not for kids. If you have videos of E-rated or E10+-rated games, they'll probably be seen as for kids.

How does KoopaTV fit into this?

KoopaTV's Policy on the 13- Audience

KoopaTV is not written for, or by, children. We don't want children here. If you're under 13 years old, you are not welcome on KoopaTV. Go away. Leave immediately. And don't tell me you came here.

This is because our purpose is to influence folks to the Koopa Kingdom way of thinking. From one nation to another, there's a lot of political undertones and overtones in that, and since KoopaTV articles aren't designed to be read in a vacuum, something that seems childish enough on the surface likely is part of a narrative that's far deeper and non-childish.

KoopaTV has Google Analytics set up. Going back to when we set that up, we've had 100% of our user sessions be from people that Google believes are 18+ in age, with about 50% of sessions coming from the 18–25 group. To my knowledge, no one who is below 13 ever goes to KoopaTV. And they wouldn't enjoy it, anyway. Kids don't even know how to read nowadays. It's better that they're on YouTube. Leave this site to the adults. (Ironically, kids would rather watch a 20-minute video than read this article in 5 minutes.)

Remember: It's not COPPA that's the problem here—although COPPA is a bad law signed by President William Jefferson Clinton to allow for government regulation of the Internet in the name of the children, much like his wife's later (but failed) attempt at government regulation of the videogame industry in the name of the children—but it's Google's business practices that's causing this. That's why there are alternative video uploading sites that don't have to deal with this issue, because they don't collect data on users like YouTube does. As for KoopaTV, this site will keep its comments section open, since it's an incredibly important mechanism allowing for the audience participation that is not only crucial to KoopaTV's existence, but is outright extrinsically incentivised with the KoopaTV Loyalty Rewards Program. (Which kids under 13 years of age may not participate in.) This article was categorised as Gaming Commentary because it has profound implications for other people's comments on gaming activities on YouTube.


  1. I've decided on Door #3, Delete Freaking Everything. I haven't uploaded videos to my channel in ages and when I do make more gaming content I'm going to focus on Twitch anyway. So much for not being evil, eh Google?

  2. Ouch! Could have been perfect alliteration if you change YouTube to company. I get you want it in the title, but i think including the company name is the subheading would work just as well.

    The loss of comments is the most devastating part. So many creative and funny quips now seemingly lost to time forever. Especially when YouTube often decides to make your video for kids, even if you did not want it to be.

    1. It wouldn't work just as well in terms of being relevant when people search for this stuff in search engines!


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