Friday, September 13, 2019

FTC vs. YouTube vs... JANGBRiCKS?

It's about time I said something about the elephant in the room.  The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has determined that YouTube massively violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998 by flagrantly turning a blind eye to the huge number of young kids using the service with their parents' accounts or simply by lying about their age during signup.  As a result of that finding, Google's been fined a petty (by their standards) sum of $170M, and more importantly, they're being forced to either clean up their act or face significantly greater consequences. 

As has been the case over and over again when YouTube is caught being criminally irresponsible for profit, they're going to overreact and devastatingly punish a significant number of content creators who have done absolutely nothing wrong up to this point.  This time rather than YouTube purging or restricting all of the fraudulent accounts clearly used by kids under 13, as their systems can easily detect (the root of the FTC findings), they're going to place sanctions on anything they deem to be "children's content." Mind you, there is nothing in COPPA even suggesting in passing that content for kids itself needs to be regulated, or that kids' viewing of that content warrants restriction.  It only insists that identifiable personal data such as names, birthdates, email addresses, home/locations, etc. of kids under 13 must not be stored or tracked.  In other words, there is nothing legally wrong with the existence of "children's content" on YouTube, and there is nothing legally wrong with actual children viewing said content on YouTube.  The only thing that's wrong is for children to be logged in with an account that's not COPPA compliant when they use the site or app.  YouTube's response, to butcher a metaphor, is akin to punishing the baby instead of throwing out the bathwater.  It's egregiously idiotic.

The punishment coming to an untold number of creators, then, is the disablement of all comments, likes/dislikes, or any other methods of interaction on "content made for kids," in addition to the complete removal of what few outgoing email & app notifications they send when said content is uploaded.  Also, marked videos will become ineligible for demographically- and behaviorally-targeted ads (meaning those that are picked for individual viewers), leaving only those that are matched to basic video metadata like title, description, and tags. 

Nobody yet knows how much of an impact on full-time video makers' incomes that last change will have, but I suspect it'll be survivable.  The notification system has already been in ruins for years, with the tiniest percentage of viewers who want to know about a given creator's newest uploads actually being told about them, ever.  The loss of the remainder will be only the last in a long string of slaps in the face on that issue, and at least it will introduce reliability and closure.  Likes & dislikes? Not valuable in the first place, honestly.  They can be sources of shallow ego gratification for folks who need it, or stress for those who don't.  The "dislike" button in particular is a tool that conveys a sense of power to the miserable "hatescriber" superminority that deserves none at all.  Get rid of such useless numbers, please.  Replace them if you must with the audience retention score or some other bounded interaction measurement.  Taking away comments, though?  That can HURT.

The JANGBRiCKS channel has received over 1,000,000 (moderator approved) video comments since its inception, and it's very cautious and conservative for me to say I've read over 80% of them.  I'm guessing the real figure is over 90%.  Comments have great value to me, because in this age of increasingly meaningless swipes & double taps & predictively pre-selected emojis, it requires an unusual degree of effort and care for a content consumer to form actual words to convey a thought.  This may sound callous or jaded, but it's the absolute truth.  The more prevalent emotionally weightless acts become, the more rare and worthy of note are even the smallest of genuine gestures. 

Surely, there are some places where written comments have devolved to a prokaryotic state, like popular Twitch channels, or anything related to politics. In hobby communities where a large percentage of members have constructive mindsets, though, comments are paramount.  They're encouragement, valuable criticism, inspiration, checks & balances, guidance, historical records, so many tremendously important things!  You kill a community if you remove from it the ability to communicate.

Is the one million comment strong JANGBRiCKS viewer community about to be slain?  First off, I don't know, and secondly, I don't think so.  Based on what I know so far, a few of my channels are at risk of being classified as "made for kids" and subject to the above-mentioned sanctions, "regardless of the age" of actual viewers.  Early results from an anonymous poll on my Playmobil review channel suggest that less than 15% of viewers are under 13 & thus subject to COPPA protections, yet that entire channel is likely to be punished by YouTube for their own wrongdoings.  The places where I most actively post, however, seem to be in the clear so far, though like everything in the digital world, that's subject to change at any moment and for perhaps no discernible reason.

For the moment, I'm personally not going to fret because I have more constructive things to do with my time and mental energy.  Enforcement of the FTC settlement begins on New Year's Day and YouTube management, glowing bastion of timely & transparent communication they are, has promised to tell everyone more as the big date approaches.  I'll keep an ear peeled and let you all know if anything comes up that puts the content you enjoy from me in jeopardy.  Until then, it's business and fun as usual.


  1. That's awful. Leave it to YouTube to punish somebody for their wrongdoings yet again. Wishing you the best.

  2. Hoping your channels are not impacted too much. Your content is valuable to a great number of viewers. Creator and viewer interaction via comments is what keeps us engaged beyond the videos you upload. :)

  3. Hi Jang, Having recently discovered your channels and thoughtful, creative and wonderful work I hope all goes well.

  4. I had seen the headlines and thought only of the channels with actual kids in their videos, many of which have had their comments blocked already. Hadn't occurred to me before reading their actual post, that there's some chance channels like yours could be affected.

    I'm curious to see what they'll actually do with the many super popular family vloggers.

    I've had the youtube mobile app recommend me the youtube kids app after using it for some time watching almost exclusively lego videos, mostly from you. This and their mention of the said app worries me a bit now. Here's hoping they'll have more people speaking with creators to review the stuff that is flagged automatically.

  5. Hey Jang, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that nothing happens to your Lego channels - I'm an avid watcher and semi-regular commenter and I'd hate to lose the chance to once in a while tell you what I like about them and interact with others on subjects I can't find anywhere else.

    Is there a chance that they will restrict everything that is about toys - which would include Lego?

  6. I've been watching and am staying with you and your channels as long as you still make content that is all I can do as a consumer of this awful platform.

  7. I believe this is happening is that this is one of the first phases in getting rid of popular you-tubers (many more restrictions will follow).
    The cable networks know you guys are much more popular than their scripted boring shows. They're unfunny late night shows, they're unfunny/uninteresting/unoriginal sketch comedy shows, they're PR campaign news networks that use the lie of omission constantly are far less popular and becoming dinosaurs.
    All you young people and kids only get your entertainment, music and news online and especially YouTube.
    They know this.
    So they're going to hijack your content and get rid of your original creators and YouTube will just become the boring cable shows on this 'platform'. Cable and tv is dying so they're hijacking your medium.
    Especially for independent news outlets. They can't have them showing the truth or any other viewpoints. They need to have the young people see only restricted content. Not the full truth.
    I believe this is their ultimate goal.

  8. Thanks for explaining the FTC/YouTube situation in-depth, JANG. Once again, YouTube punishes its creators.

  9. Thank you for taking the time to provide a very well constructed reply to what is happening in the foreseeable future with Youtube. You are the first Youtube content creator that I've seen thus far that has replied about this to the public without anger or extreme fear about the change effecting their channel. I appreciate the positive outlook you have about your channels, thoughts about the ever changing climate with addressing trends you're seeing in your viewers. And continue to striving to provide well thought out content. I think your channel is professional, organized, and a pleasure to view. Regardless of what happens, I think majority of your channels will survive. Your content is appropriate for any age group to be honest. I am a faithful viewer for a very long time and look forward to seeing more content from you.

  10. This is a great piece Jang. I've been looking into it for my own channel and I'm inclined to agree with what you're saying about exactly who will be targeted. I don't believe your channel and a lot of LEGO creators (including my own) will be caught by this as we aren't targeting kids. We are doing what we love with something that is classed a toy for all ages. But, there are those that clearly targeting - and trying to capitalise - on kids audiences which is what they are targeting but in a very heavy handed way. I really hope that you (and that rest of us) are not affected as I feel we have professional channels enjoyed and supported by great audiences!

    1. I do have to caution against excessive confidence. Some channels you know *will* be hit by this. One of my own LEGO-related channels has already been directly warned by YouTube by email. For all I know, in one of the coming rounds of checks & reviews, a significant amount of main JANGBRiCKS content may suddenly be classified as being primarily "for children."