Mobility creates U.S. law to protect kids from big tech

Senior Democrats and Republicans in Congress have said they are determined to strengthen the ability of big technology companies to target children and form a new front aimed at enforcing stricter laws on Big Tech.

Members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives have told the Financial Times that they want to pass new legislation to regulate social media companies, especially on data and privacy issues.

With a number of companies offering versions of their platform to young people – and for the purpose of Facebook Introduction plan An Instagram for Kids – There is now a growing coalition of bipartisan support on Capitol Hill calling for stronger protection.

Ed Markey, a Democratic member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said, “Children’s time has spread online during the epidemic, and the lack of legal protections to protect children bypassing the online ecosystem has become more apparent than ever,” said Ed Markey. “We should all be able to agree that corporate profits can’t come before kids get well.”

Kathy McMurray Rogers, a senior Republican on the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, said: He added: “All options are on the table now.”

Protecting children

At a hearing last month, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee grilled Facebook, Twitter and Google alphabet CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Darcy and Sundar Pichai, respectively, to block their complaints about how they could track children online. , Is designed to expose children to toxic content, is addictive and ultimately affects children’s mental health.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing last month Daniel Size / Bloomberg

There is a special response against apps suitable for children under the age of 13, who have been banned from Facebook, and only allowed on YouTube with parental consent.

Google’s YouTube video platform has had a children’s version since 2015 that hosts family-friendly content and advertising. Facebook launched Messenger Kids in 2017 and is now working on an Instagram for kids, like Messenger Kids – to be “ad free”, a step to address the concern that kids are being commercialized online.

The companies argue that creating these platforms, which provide additional parental control, protects children who might otherwise be exposed to harmful content if they lie about their age to use the main platforms. A 2019 report More than half of people under the age of 13 have a social media profile, according to UK communications regulator Ofcom. YouTube says it shuts down thousands of accounts each week, including those under the age of 13.

These initiatives by skeptics have been met with skeptics and critics have advised that they are driven by profit and not a true respect for protection. Advocacy groups have argued that even if targeted ads are not shown to young users, companies may collect specific information in anticipation of their future use and users may become addicted to the platform.

“It is not intended for minors on existing platforms; This is creating new demand and gaining loyalty to their platform, ”said Josh Golin, executive director of A Commercial Free Childhood Campaign. He added that Facebook’s plan for children’s Instagram was probably about competing with its fast-growing rival TickTock, which is extremely popular among Generation Z users.

Platforms have indicated that these options will be safe, there will be lessons. However, In a letter Sent to YouTube’s chief executive Susan Wojciech last week, the House subcommittee on economic and consumer policy described YouTube kids as a “waste of steam, consumerist content.”

Another letter Sent to Zuckerberg Last week, Democratic lawmakers, including Marquee, called on Facebook to “invest in efforts” to reduce the number of pre-teen users on its platform without creating Instagram for kids.

Jim Steer, chief executive of lawyers and nonprofit group Common Sense Media, said companies should be more strict when considering “age limits” – or age verification – because they already use artificial intelligence to target ads and add content. “Their age should be addressed – these are trillion-dollar companies.”

Facebook said in a statement that it was doing “ongoing work” to keep underage users off Instagram.

“YouTube has made significant investments in the Kids app to make it safer and serve more educational and rich content,” YouTube said.

Legal action

There are three broad areas where politicians are trying to legislate: children’s online privacy; The content that they can access online; And research technology companies work on them.

On privacy issues, Marquee has been pushing for “Copapa 2.0” for years – a powerful version of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act passed in 1999 – to allow Internet companies to collect personal and location information from anyone under the age of 13 without parental consent. Will prohibit and from anyone between the ages of 13 and 15 without the user’s consent. Democrat Kathy Castor from Florida has campaigned for a similar bill in the House of Representatives.

US Senator Ed Markey says there is a lack of legal protection for children online: Erin Clark-Poole

In the content, Markey promotes a children’s law that would ban certain practices designed or targeted at children from any website and application. A version of the law has also been proposed in the House, banning “auto-play” aimed at making platforms less addictive and pressing warnings. It will ban hugely popular “unboxing videos”, clips of kids opening new toys, which critics say is another way to give kids advertising products.

The most likely area of ​​action for lawyers is, experts say, forcing companies to pass on more information to their child users – information that advertisers say businesses collect but are reluctant to share.

Laurie Trahan, a Democratic representative from Massachusetts, said: “We want to understand the kind of data we collect on our children. When you’re launching an app for kids like Instagram, what kind of data is being collected between our six- to 12-year-olds? “

Although most of the bill’s proposals have been made before but have not reached a vote, campaigners are hopeful that Instagram’s plans will force politicians to take action.

Democratic supporters say Markey is likely to launch a new version of his proposed law in the coming weeks, while others are working on new proposals. Trahan said he would bring a new bill to market so they would be forced to work with researchers to determine the impact they are having on children in their companies.

Should Democratic leaders in the House and Senate then decide whether the issue should be put to a vote, campaigners are hopeful the conditions are right for anything to pass.

“On [Capitol] Hill, we have an incredible acceptance of the children’s issue, “said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based nonprofit group.” Politically, it’s less controversial … and we have a lot more voice. [than we used to]”

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