Saturday, December 7, 2019

Setting Screen Time 2: Dealing with COPPA

I hadn’t intended to write a follow-up to my previous article, but content creators on YouTube have been dealing with a related issue. Since I make YT videos, I have had to navigate it, too. I figure it is worth sharing, given what I said last time about paternalism.

Recently, YT ran afoul of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). In a nutshell, COPPA forbids the collecting of personally identifiable information for children. The FTC determined that the targeted advertising on YT is covered under the law, and they imposed a $170 million fine for it.

YouTube, in response, is changing the way that content is created. Channel owners are now being forced to categorize our videos as either “for kids” or “not for kids,” which we can do either channel-wide or on a case-by-case basis.

For those who decide to make content for children, their channels will now be essentially without a way to interact with their audiences or make revenue. “For kids” videos will not allow ads, but they will also be without a comments section or a notification button. Notifications and comments require account identification, and account ID is now off the table if the users are children.

This represents what will probably be the death knell for a lot of children’s programming online. But the impact does not stop there. YouTube is requiring the label because they do not want to be fined again. What is not clear right now is what will happen when the label is not enough. What are they going to do if children wander over to the “not for kids” side of the website? There have been threats that intentionally mislabeled channels will be banned, but what about accidents? A lot of uncertainty exists, to say nothing of fears of FTC fines for the content creators themselves.

Probably the worst thing, though, is the segregation this policy will create. Now, I’m not talking about content specifically. This is not a First Amendment issue. YouTube is a private company that already has content regulations and that offers an age-restriction filter. Complying with the COPPA goes a step farther.

There is going to have to be some way to keep children from even seeing adult channels, because that will be the only way to keep them from interacting (and thus being identified) by those channels. Young people will have to be actively banned from videos that are “not made for kids.” This will mean that they will not be able to see things that, while not made for them, would also do them no harm.

I consider my own channel to be in that category. There is no sex, violence, or profanity in my videos, and I do not advertise. I do have a Patreon page, but that is for direct donations and requires a credit card. No tracking occurs on my account. More importantly, I talk about things that everyone needs to hear. No, I’m not saying that my every word is vital. I’m saying that I present the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the implications of that gospel in this world. You do not have to be 18 to understand that. However, because I want people to be able to comment on my episodes and receive upload notifications, I have to set my channel to “not for kids.” It will cost me and many others a huge potential audience.

Now, there will probably be ways around this, though the ones I can foresee are on the end of the viewer rather than the creator. There is not going to be a way to tell if a minor is watching through his parent’s account. Nor, at least for now, do there seem to be any plans to prevent alias accounts. Children can and will give false details in order to see what they want. But it should not have had to come to that.

Once again, it is an example of paternalism. This is all happening because the government feels the need to step into an area that should be the responsibility of mothers and fathers. They should be the ones to decide if their children can watch YT, what they can watch, what information about them gets shared, and whether they should buy the things their kids ask for. The abdication of that responsibility is what has gotten us here. Hopefully, people will start to wake up to it. Until they do, we can look forward to bureaucrats further restricting life for all of us.

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