How YouTube Advertising Affects Minors in the Wake of COPPA Enforcement - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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How YouTube Advertising Affects Minors in the Wake of COPPA Enforcement

How YouTube Advertising Affects Minors in the Wake of COPPA Enforcement

What do gaming channels, family vloggers, and celebrity commentators have in common? They are subject to the United States’ Children Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”), a law enacted at the start of the millennium.1 After the Federal Trade Commission fined YouTube $170 million for allegedly violating the law by “collecting user information from kids to fuel its behavioral advertising business,” YouTube moved to change its policies.2 Both federal and New York authorities had made note of the money that YouTube makes from data collection for ads, and given the platform’s user base, it was likely that children’s data was being compromised.3 Google, YouTube’s parent company, announced shortly afterwards that it planned to limit data collection on children’s content on the site, and that personalized advertisements, as well as comments and notifications, would be unavailable to videos identified as being made for children.4

The reasoning behind this change is seen clearly through studies like the NCBI’s, in which evidence suggests that children under eight years of age do not have the ability to understand when someone is trying to sell them a product.5 Creators on the platform then began uploading videos such as vlogs about mislabeling and income concerns to come with YouTube’s setting changes from COPPA.6 While general ads remain in place of targeted ones, video saving, searching, and commenting features are dismantled, thus affecting creators’ monetization and audience engagement through the site’s usual algorithms.7 The full impact of COPPA’s enforcement on the website has yet to be realized as it only just went into effect, but it will certainly affect those creators who rely on advertisements and Patreon donations to make videos full-time.8

And while the law and YouTube seem to be working together on protecting children in the audience, the rise of underage influencers on the platform indicates that when children are the ones performing, they might not be as well-protected.9 Influencers themselves have gotten into trouble in recent years for not fully disclosing when their content is sponsored.10 But when the influencer is too young to truly understand what they are promoting or that they have an online presence, YouTube and its creators may face another COPPA violation.11

The child privacy issues do not stop with data collection; rather, they follow through to YouTube making a profit off creators too young to use the site themselves.12 Part of why YouTube faced such a large penalty for breaching COPPA was because it was highly likely that the company had actual knowledge of underage children obtaining accounts on the site.13 While the company has issued statements that they terminate accounts for those under thirteen once aware of the user’s age, the highest-paid earner on the site in 2018 was a seven-year-old boy named Ryan.14 The possibilities of parents exploiting images of their children—who may one day discover that mom’s photo hobby was really her sharing their image online with millions of strangers to turn a profit—are prevalent.15 The FTC’s push to enforce COPPA on social media recently may serve as a warning to those seeking to take advantage of a child’s privacy and publicity rights. As the sphere of influencers expands over the course of the new decade, adjustments to child labor laws for entertainers will likely expand beyond traditional film and music mediums into YouTube video creation.

  1. Fed. Trade Comm’n, Protecting Children’s Privacy Under COPPA: A Survey on Compliance (Apr. 2002),’s-online-privacy-protection-rule-coppa/coppasurvey.pdf. []

  2. Brian Fung, Google and FTC reach $170 million settlement over alleged YouTube violations of kids’ privacy, CNN BUS. (Sept. 4, 2019), []

  3. Id.

  4. Id.

  5. Chavie Lieber, Toy unboxing videos have taken over YouTube. Some experts say they exploit kids, Vox (Mar. 22, 2019), []

  6. Todd Spangler, YouTube Creators Worried and Confused Over New Kid-Video COPPA Rules, Potential Fines, Variety (Nov. 22, 2019), []

  7. Id.

  8. Johan Moreno, YouTube Disables Personalized Ads, Comments On Children’s Videos, Forbes (Jan. 6, 2020), []

  9. Julia Carrie Wong, ‘It’s not play if you’re making money’: how Instagram and YouTube disrupted child labor laws, The Guardian (Apr. 24, 2019), []

  10. Mariella Moon, Most YouTube Influencers Still Don’t Disclose Sponsored Deals, Study Says, Entrepreneur (Mar. 28, 2018), []

  11. Taylor Mooney, Companies make millions off kid influencers, and the law hasn’t kept up, CBS News (Aug. 26, 2019), []

  12. Id.

  13. Id.

  14. Id.

  15. Id.

Meagan Lemley

Meagan Lemley is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and is a staff member of the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media, and Entertainment Law Journal. She also serves on the executive boards for Fordham’s Media and Entertainment Law Society as well as the Wormser Chapter for the Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity. Meagan holds a B.A. in Law and Society from American University.