YouTube is part of the problem

Dakota Tebaldi

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The platform has made a number of policy changes in response to the pending settlement in recent weeks, most notably instituting an explicit ban on violent or “mature” videos that appear to be marketed toward children. The video service has also banned targeted ads on children’s videos, making the videos significantly less lucrative for creators and threatening an entire genre of YouTube content.
I think that's actually awesome, because as far as I'm concerned 25% of the "children's genre" of YouTube videos is mildly exploitative garbage that needs to die in a fire, another 25% is blatantly exploitative garbage that needs to be nuked from orbit, 25% more is creepy-disturbing nonsense whose creators frankly belong in either a mental or penal institution, and the remaining 25% is professionally-produced stuff that either wasn't monetized at all or wasn't made primarily for ad revenue and so will do fine with the reduced money.

In case it's not obvious, I have zero sympathy for parents who've decided to exploit their children for YouTube ad-money.
 

Dakota Tebaldi

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Hey look, it's like someone's been reading my mind

Ryan ToysReview — one of the most popular YouTube channels, with billions of views and more than 21 million subscribers — features an excitable 7-year-old named Ryan unboxing toys and playing with them and going on kid-friendly adventures. The channel, run by Ryan's parents, Shion and Loann Kaji, was YouTube's top earner in 2018, according to Forbes, bringing in $22 million.

But a watchdog group alleges Ryan ToysReview has raked in its profits under "deceptive native advertising" through product placement that youngsters are not able to discern as a sales pitch — a violation of Federal Trade Commission law.

In a complaint filed to the FTC dated Aug. 28, Truth in Advertising accuses the channel of deceptively promoting "a multitude of products to millions of preschool-aged children."

The channel, which has endorsements with a variety of companies, including Hardee's, Colgate and Chuck E. Cheese, does not always disclose that its content is sponsored, Truth in Advertising wrote, and if it does, the disclosures are often "inadequate" — mentioned in voiceovers that last for less than two seconds or flash in text on the screen that many in Ryan ToysReview's audience are too young to read.

"The preschool audience is unable to understand or even identify the difference between marketing material and organic content, even when there is a verbal indicator that attempts to identify the marketing content," the complaint states.

"Such deceptive ad campaigns are rampant on Ryan ToysReview and are deceiving millions of young children on a daily basis," it adds.

Earlier this month, Google, the parent company of YouTube, agreed to pay a record $170 million fine to settle claims over child privacy violations after regulators said the video site illegally collected personal information from children without their parents' consent, then used that information to target them with ads.

Some criticized the settlement as not being harsh enough, including Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra.

“The company baited children using nursery rhymes, cartoons and other kid-directed content on curated YouTube channels to feed its massively profitable behavioral advertising business,” he said in a statement at the time.
 

Dakota Tebaldi

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Revisiting this:

The note at the Verge link saying that critics of the settlement believe that it lets YouTube off the hook - well I can say with around 99% certainty that they are most probably completely wrong about that, and I'll explain why because this whole mess is about to become VERY relevant on the first of January, and a lot of YouTube creators are starting to panic over it.

Firstly, to explain how this situation happened:

1) COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, makes it illegal for websites and web services to collect personal and personally-identifying information from children 12 years old and younger, without the expressed consent of their parents. Since 2013, web cookies created by children of protected age while browsing the internet have been included as forbidden data in the Act. Mining and exploiting cookies are a massively important means by which most internet advertisers determine your browsing habits and demographic details (to a literally scary degree of accuracy, I might add) so they can serve you targeted ads.

2) YouTube, ever since it began offering ad-revenue sharing, has mined and exploited the cookies of video-watchers in order to serve them targeted ads during videos. The money they make doing this is what gets shared with the content creators of monetized videos.

3) YouTube has always proclaimed itself to be COPPA-compliant, by virtue of the fact that COPPA does not apply to its userbase. YouTube has always claimed that its targeted userbase was 13 years and older, exclusively. Their strongest argument to this effect has been that you must be 13 years or older to be able to create a YouTube account (and after its acquisition, a Google account) and use most aspects of the service. The FTC simply bought this line without question for the longest time.

4) Last year, a coalition of children's advocacy groups pointed out to the FTC that they must not be hiring the sharpest knives in the drawer over there because even the laziest most cursory trip through YouTube shows that the service is utterly loaded with content that is self-evidently and even explicitly aimed at younger-than-teenage children; this plus the fact that Google's own data, which they shared with advertisers, clearly tracked how many 12-and-under viewers were watching....and being served targeted ads based on their age demographic.

5) The FTC said "OMG WTCOMPUTERYF" and launched a (competent, it must be said) investigation, eventually charging Google and YouTube with violating COPPA and, more eventually still, getting a record-setting settlement out of them.

So here's the thing: the settlement wasn't just a fine. Yeah they had to pay that; but the settlement included some other terms of compliance, requiring YouTube to make some severe changes. For one thing, and most importantly, they were forever barred from ever serving targeted ads on content aimed at children. YouTube was required to set up a system by which child-directed content was explicitly categorized by uploaders, and this content could not have directed ads in it. How YouTube would police the platform to make sure creators were properly self-designating their content wasn't laid out in the settlement agreement, left up to YouTube to decide for itself; however, a hard deadline was given for YouTube to have whatever system it planned to implement in-place and working by: January 1, 2020. And the FTC did state that after that date they would conduct some occasional sweeps of the platform, and if violations were found, YouTube could be charged and penalized again.

So that brings us to today. Last week YouTube posted a video with some guidelines for creators to make sure they're complaint:


All well and good, but many creators are now panicking, for a couple of reasons. Mainly, there's two categories of people who are panicking about the upcoming changes.

Category 1: Makers of child-directed content. It has not been made clear whether YouTube will allow some ads on child content; the settlement only requires no TARGETED ads. Unfortunately, targeted ads are the only kind that make a substantial amount of money (assuming your channel is popular enough), meaning parents who have managed to make an actual living up until now by exploiting their children via YouTube are about to find this business model no longer sustainable, and naturally they are upset about that. Screw these people, honestly, because while yes it's not strictly their fault that they were enticed by YouTube into building a business on what turned out to be illegal activity, the fact is - well, hey guess what, it was illegal activity, so YouTube simply can't keep doing it anymore and therefore won't be able to pay you anymore - end of story. Generally speaking, the word on the street is that these people want to petition the FTC to relax or weaken COPPA so that they can continue to whore out their children for targeted ad money. That's my reading at least - but for the sake of fairness I'll admit that I am biased against parents who exploit their children this way to begin with, and openly think that like 90% of children's content on YouTube is cancer that deserves to die, and am gleefully optimistic that much of it actually will now thanks to this settlement - so my take might be less than objective.

Category 2: Makers of content that its creators don't want to be classified as child-directed, but for which there's a reasonable fear YouTube or the FTC could decide that it is child-directed even if the creators themselves insist it isn't. These are adults ostensibly making videos intended for adults, but that it just might so happen that due to their content they probably unavoidably attract a fair number of child viewers. A good example of this might be adults who collect children's toys as a hobby, or are fans of/obsessed with children's media like cartoons and movies, and make YouTube videos discussing these topics. Sadly these people might end up legitimately being collateral damage and I'm a bit more sympathetic to them - but, well, I'm sorry; it sucks, but at the same time it's difficult to complain that your channel which is admittedly about children's content is unfairly inheriting the designation by extension. More to the point, these people are afraid of what consequences or penalties they may be risking if they call their content non-child-directed and YouTube or the FTC then disagree. Again generally speaking, the world on the street is that these people want to petition the FTC to create more firm and clear guidelines about will or will not be considered child-directed content, which sounds on its face like a good idea until you realize that 1) they would almost certainly disagree with whatever guidelines the FTC makes, meaning it's not actually a solution, just a way to extend the argument indefinitely, and 2) even if they could amend an already months-old settlement agreement (I don't know if they can or not), the FTC is probably loathe to try to make hard-and-fast rules because doing so would weaken their power of discretion and would also allow bad actors (including YouTube itself, as well as the content creators) to find ways to violate the spirit while technically following the letter, if you understand what I mean.

So anyway, if you watch YouTube a lot, you'll probably start noticing a lot of creators expressing fears related to the above two issues.