Why it just got harder to be a kids’ content creator on YouTube

CBC Kids News • Published 2019-09-17 08:09

New rules aimed at putting children's privacy first

Ever notice that if you search for something on YouTube, you’ll see an ad for it the next time you log on?

That’s because the program is tracking you, in order to build your personalized profile.

The more data it gathers, the better it is at deciding which ads to push in your direction.

Now Google, which owns YouTube, is being told kids can no longer be targeted. 

An investigation in the U.S. — and a $170 million US fine — means Google is going to have to stop gathering private information about users who watch kid-themed videos on YouTube.

That means no more personalized ads.

Great news for those who are worried about children's privacy.

But bad news if you’re a YouTuber who makes content for kids and relies on those ads to make a living.

Kelli Maple says she’ll probably still be able to make some money under YouTube’s new rules, but ‘a lot less’ than she makes now and this is her only job. (Kelli Maple/YouTube)

The fact that personalized ads will be blocked on videos about kids' toys, games or characters could “ruin” careers, said American YouTuber Kelli Maple in a video posted on her channel on Sept. 7.

The 17-year-old, who started her self-titled channel in 2014 as a way to express her love for dolls, said she had hoped to turn her passion into a career and “now that’s not even an option.”

Why advertising matters

Career YouTubers “can’t survive” without ads, said Latoya Moore-Broyles, one of the creative brains behind MyFroggyStuff. “We have to have houses and food.”

In a video posted on Sept. 6, the mother-daughter team announced “the channel is maturing” in order to keep the ads flowing.

That means no more unboxing toys or building miniature sets for dolls — but videos about crafting, upcycling and even hair care will continue.

The team behind the MyFroggyStuff channel says their content is maturing in order to make it easier to earn money from ads under new rules. That means they’ll no longer go by their nicknames: Froggy and Little Froggy. They’ll go by Toya and Bella instead. (MyFroggyStuff/YouTube)

YouTube collects personal information about its users — including their likes and dislikes — for a number of reasons, one of which is to figure out which ads they might like.

But collecting personal information about kids without clear permission from their parents is illegal in the U.S.

So why was YouTube breaking the rules?

YouTube’s response

The platform was never meant for users under the age of 13, said YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in a blog post dated Sept. 4.

But with a “boom” in family content coming online in recent years, she said it was time to take a “hard look” at what more YouTube could do to protect kids’ privacy.

In a blog post, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki explained the company will use machine learning (a computer program that can learn from experience) to decide which videos are targeting kids and should have their ads blocked. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The $170 million US fine might have had something to do with motivating YouTube to make changes — though Valerie Steeves, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, called it a “minor” fine “given the amount of money that YouTube makes.”

Why should kids care?

The private information that YouTube collects can have a real impact on your future, Steeves said.

YouTube tracks all kinds of details in order to build a profile on you, including what kind of music you like, your favourite food, who your friends are and where you live.

IPad shows children's shows like lego, Peppa Pig, Rhino Keepers and Ninja stuff.

Until 2020 when the changes kick in, YouTube is pushing kids under 13 to use the YouTube kids app, which doesn’t include targeted ads. (YouTube Kids)

They can sell that profile to people who make ads, possible employers and even the police — and that can have an impact on your future opportunities, Steeves said, including whether you get a job, qualify for life insurance or get parole if you end up in jail.

Sure, you get to watch some good videos — for free — on YouTube, Steeves said, but it’s “an unfair exchange.”

While you wait

YouTube is giving creators “about four months” before the changes kick in, Wojcicki.

The company is also setting up a $100 million US fund — to be used over the next three years — to make “thoughtful, original children’s content,” she said.

For users who don’t want to wait for more privacy, YouTube is suggesting they use the YouTube kids app, which doesn’t include targeted ads and which comes ad-free if you pay for a membership.

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