Friday, November 22, 2019

The FTC is not out to get you

Modelers are in an uproar since Andy’s Hobby Headquarters posted a video yesterday about the potential implications of not following the rules of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This is a law that was passed in 1998 and implemented in 2000 when the FTC issued the associated rules.

Yes, that was almost 20 years ago. Why are we talking about it now? Because the FTC settled large civil penalties with TikTok ($5.7 million) and Google/YouTube ($170 million) for violating COPPA rules. I understand that fines can be up to $42,000, so that got the attention of YouTube channel owners around the interwebs. As Andy's video has been shared, it’s generated outrage by modelers who are quick to make flip references to communism, China, mass shootings, and various anti-government tropes.

So is all this angst in our hobby warranted? As my wife and I like to say around the house, "Everybody calm down."

Here’s the text from the Code of Federal Regulations (Title 16, Chapter 1, Subchapter C, Part 312), which references the phrase “appeals to children” that YouTubers are referring to.
This text is indented."In determining whether a Web site or online service, or a portion thereof, is directed to children, the Commission will consider its subject matter, visual content, use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives, music or other audio content, age of models, presence of child celebrities or celebrities who appeal to children, language or other characteristics of the Web site or online service, as well as whether advertising promoting or appearing on the Web site or online service is directed to children. The Commission will also consider competent and reliable empirical evidence regarding audience composition, and evidence regarding the intended audience.”
As a fan of scale modeling YouTube channels, I can’t think of one that would meet these criteria. There’s a big difference between a video that explains using pigments to replicate mud and a video that uses cutesy characters to paint a storage box.

Maybe I’m wrong, so let’s consider a worse case scenario where an FTC employee goes rogue and unfairly flags a channel or video as violating COPPA. What then?

I can’t find any specific information on the FTC’s web site, but I suspect the penalty process would begin, not with a bill for $42,000, but with a warning letter. A quick Google search for COPPA warning letters finds the letter sent to TikTok, which had 200 million users at the time; there’s no mention of a financial penalty, just a request to make the necessary changes to ensure compliance with COPPA, as well as contact information for an FTC employee. I doubt that a lesser offender would receive anything harsher. I suspect the FTC would allow you to explain the nature of your channel to them to appeal its flagging.

If you’re concerned about COPPA and how it could affect scale modeling channels -- and it sounds like a lot of you are -- the FTC is requesting feedback on the rules until December 9 via this page. The question of most interest to scale modeling content providers is this one: "Does the Rule correctly articulate the factors to consider in determining whether a website or online service is directed to children, or should additional factors be considered?" Give the FTC specific suggestions on how you would more clearly identify content for children vs. adults.

In the meantime, YouTube provides clear instructions on how to set the appropriate controls on your channel. They also provide an explanation to help you determine if content is made for kids.

That's how see this, from the perspective of someone whose closest experience with the law was watching episodes of LA Law in the late 1980s. I'm confident my readers will set me straight if I'm under-reacting to this brouhaha.

By the way, I'd be remiss to say that the Andy's Hobby Headquarters YouTube channel is excellent! It's a great resource for new release announcements and reviews and techniques. I recommend subscribing!

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