On Feb. 23, Google announced the much-anticipated release of a child-friendly YouTube service called YouTube Kids. The application targets making it safer and easier for children to find videos on certain topics, and is available for free on Google Play and the App Store in the U.S. The app will no doubt be analyzed for its safety, and — as with any issue regarding children and the Internet — it calls up issues of compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
COPPA has come under scrutiny itself over the last couple of years as — in a post-Snowden world — digital privacy, especially that of children, has stayed in the spotlight of public concern. The Federal Trade Commission stepped up enforcement of COPPA last year after a couple of high-profile cases regarding the Act. And President Barack Obama proposed the Student Digital Privacy Act last year — a law that would prevent corporations from using student data collected by technology in the classroom for marketing purposes. Naturally, Google will have to show COPPA-compliant with its latest service. Allison Fitzpatrick, partner in the Advertising, Marketing & Promotions Practice Group of law firm Davis & Gilbert, specializes in COPPA related issues and provides some insight into how important this move is on the part of Google.
She says that, following the revamped version of COPPA that went into effect in 2013, “we saw many sites and apps shutting down their child-directed service so it is nice to see YouTube filling the void, provided the app is administered in compliance with COPPA.” While it’s nearly impossible to prevent children from accessing certain content on YouTube proper as well as the rest of the Internet, it is a positive thing to have at least the option of a kid-friendly version.
Legally speaking, Fitzpatrick notes: “YouTube Kids will have to comply with COPPA, which requires that apps obtain parental consent before collecting any personal information from children under 13 years of age. YouTube Kids needs to be careful because the Federal Trade Commission and other regulators will be watching it closely to ensure that it complies with COPPA. If children can upload videos on their own, YouTube Kids would need to comply with new-COPPA, which covers photos and videos that include a child’s image or voice. This means that YouTube Kids would need to obtain verifiable parental consent before allowing children to post videos and photos of themselves.”
She raises the interesting question of profit, as well. How will a service that has to get approval for advertising from parents make money? If the majority of parents deny the advertising option on YouTube Kids, how will the service get advertisers? As the service is adopted, the answers to these questions may flesh out.