Federal Trade Commission and Complications of Government Control

Within the scope of the last month, YouTube/Google has been sending out notices regarding a new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) policy known as The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. What this regulation entails is this noted as the provision to provide a “framework of fair information practices governing the collection, access to, and use of personal information by website directed to children.” Through rigorous and largely legislative language regarding the semantics of what “operation,” “children,” and “personal information” is defined as, it basically affords the government the means to regulate online content through the vague grounds of “protecting children.” You can go to the official FTC website for their official breakdown of COPPA here.

The Pros of COPPA

The basis of COPPA is that it affords more parental control over what children see. “Children” as defined by the FTC in conjunction with COPPA is anyone under the age of 12. It essentially protects what kids see on the Internet. Which means anything questionable that directly affects children 12 and under must be defined and logged by court of law lest these creators face a hefty fine. It will deter content and pigeonhole creators who primarily create content the FTC determines to be less than savory and essentially segregate those from the rest of “kid friendly” YouTube.

Now the Ugly

But let’s be clear here and get straight to the point.  COPPA will destroy YouTube and essentially any content creator on the Internet.  The documentation presented by the FTC states that content or in FTC talk, “‘subject matter’” that is appealing to children” and makes large list of viable subjects that are “kid friendly.” The problem is the list does not afford any specifications on what each thing is. For instance, if your video is about “music,” according to the FTC, because “music” is a subject matter appealing to kids, it will be appropriate and thus viewable for the masses.  But adults don’t listen to music? Like music is only for kids? Or what about the FTC listing of “video/computer games”? Again, only kids play video and/or computer games? Is this subject matter only relegated just for kids 12 and under? If the subject matter was specifically pertaining to kids video games, that is something else, but based on how the FTC worded their passable subject matter list, the vague referencing to video games without the kid friendly note will be called into question by the federal government.  

It is not just a subject matter that is “defined,” but the FTC is also infringing about the usage of language in order to protect “children.”  Here is how the website/YouTube video/platform will be enforcing language that is appropriate for children. According to COPPA, “language of the web site such as language that is simple enough to be understandable to children 12 and under; short, colorful descriptions; slang and pop culture phrases (e.g., a kids’ site may be identified by such language as “kids only,”“fun,” “free stuff,” “whatever,” “cool,” “duh,” “games,” “Ask your parents….” etc.)”  Now there are a plethora of other rules that the FTC regards as “suitable for children 12 and under” which you can read the full handbook here.

The Gist

Here is essentially what the FTC is saying based on the rules of updated COPPA set to be legislated into Federal Law come December.  Here is the gist; “If your content uses any of these words/images/graphics/subject matter, your content is dubbed ‘ not kid friendly’ but if the FTC finds out that it is kid friendly, then the creator/company will be fined $40,000 for essentially “lying” about the content.  Here is how to flesh this out in simpler concepts.

Say 14 year old Billy got himself a Happy Meal from McDonalds.  And he decides to film and post to YouTube his own personal Happy Meal mukbang.  He uses words like “cool” and “toy” and is savvy enough to fill his video with bright flashy graphics and animated GIFs.  Prior to posting his video, Billy, being 14 and not aware of any laws because he’s 14, doesn’t click on the “kid friendly” option YouTube is required to provide to be COPPA compliant.  So the video posts and all of Billy’s friends like and share the mukbang across the internet.

Fast forward three months and the FTC mails Billy a letter telling him he owes a $40,000 fine for “lying” about his content by not clicking on the YouTube provided option prior to posing his Happy Meal mukbang.  Obviously Billy being 14 will not have $40,000 so guess who the Federal Government goes after, his parents in which there is a potential for bankruptcy and/or even prison time. Here’s the crazy part, COPPA was established solely for large multinational companies who would feel the sting of a $40,000 fine but not tank the company.  But now the FTC is targeting content creators to comply with this outdated law.

How This Will Be Implemented

Here is how this will play out in real time.  Once this legislation is established and the update is legally binding federally, the FTC will require someone or someones to comb through hundreds of thousands of pieces of content and deem things to be legitimately for kids.  They will secure the content, see if it is marked “not suitable for children 12 and under” but based on the pertinent subject matter as well as language used in the content, flag it as content that IS suitable, and fine the creator because he posted a video of him playing a “video game” which is a “kid friendly subject matter” and in his video, he used words like, “cool,” “fun,” and other rhetoric deemed “kid friendly” by the FTC but regarded the content as “not suitable for children 12 and under.”

Now remember, this is the federal government so it will not be someone who is up to speed with what goes on.  It will probably be some overpaid 60-something who doesn’t know what “FortNite” is and just say, “Well, this video is labeled not for kids but the person is playing a video game and video games by our definition is a kid thing so, FINED $40000!”

Remember, again, this is the federal government.  Just like the IRS, the DMV, the VA, and the United States Postal Service, they are the pits!  Absolutely the worst possible experience anyone could never hope to have. But the same federal government is now going to police content creators on a creative platform.  How will they do this? What measure will the FTC use to gauge what is considered “kid friendly”? How will the FTC detect these videos? Who decides what is “kid friendly” and what is not?  How will they enforce this? Is a COPPA violation per video? Is it based per channel? Who will legislate this?

Has the FTC seen an episode of South Park?  Sure it’s an animated TV show, but it certainly is not a kid friend show.  Does the FTC know what FortNite is? Yes, it is in fact a video game but it is not for kids 12 and under!  

Conclusion

This law is once again another evident attempt at government oversight and overreach.  This affects everything. That is not an attempt at hyperbole! It will affect everyone and everything.  PewDiePie, YouTube’s MOST popular content creator. If the FTC catches him playing Minecraft and his video is labeled “not for kids” and the FTC digital foot soldier catches this and deemed PewDiePie’s video a lie, he gets the $40000 fine.  That is how this will all work. Remember, even if you mention the word, “duh” while eating cereal in your video and if it’s labeled “not kid friendly” and because you had those things in the video, you will be fined! Will that be the exact case?  We do not know as the FTC has not specified anything in this COPPA update geared towards content creators.

The FTC is like your mother who asked you about making a Facebook profile.  So you tell her and she says she did but next thing you know she clicked on over 50 different things, installing 400 different viruses to your computer because she has no clue how to make a Facebook profile.  That is how this disastrous legislation will play out.

The conclusion we need to come to grips with is now, how to stop it.  Luckily, before the December deadline we can tweet at the FTC Commissioners as well as leave a short, straight to the point comment to the FTC letting them know that this new COPPA update is severely outdated and is endangering and infringing upon content.  Visiting this site will afford you, the reader, the chance to leave that comment regarding this new update.  And if you feel like putting some of these Commissioners on blast letting them know COPPA will not work and is not something the general public desires to see implemented, tweet them all!  But again, this is simply just another means of government overreach, as if we need another bloated bureaucratic agency dictating creative content when they can’t even fix the DMV.

Opinion

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