‘Critical’ online privacy protections for children pass Senate vote

A key U.S. Senate panel passed on Wednesday what a prominent children’s rights advocate called “an important step toward creating a safer, less exploitative internet for children and teens.”

“We hope lawmakers are prepared to do what is necessary to protect young people from the unacceptable risks they face online every day in this country.”

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee introduced two bills: the Child Online Safety Act (S.3663) and the Children and Young Persons Online Privacy Protection Act (S.1628), also known as KOSA and COPPA 2.0.

While some privacy advocates have expressed serious concerns about KOSA, progressive supporters like Fairplay executive director Josh Golin said that, taken together, the bills “will provide essential privacy protections.” privacy for children and teens, limit surveillance advertising and require platforms to put the interests of young people first. .

“We urge Congress to pass these bills — for too long Big Tech has been allowed to regulate itself at great cost to the health and well-being of young Americans,” he added, an appeal taken up by other groups, from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the Center for Digital Democracy.

S. Bryn Austin, director of the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED) at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital, also praised the development, saying “we hope lawmakers are prepared to do what is necessary to protect young people from the unacceptable risks they face online every day in this country, but we know there is a long way to go and we will continue to fight for common sense social media monitoring and protections until the job is done.”

The four organizations signed on a Monday letter of more than 100 groups who urged the committee to move forward on both bills and noted that “there has not been significant federal legislation to protect children and youth online since the passage of the COPPA in 1998 – long before smartphones and platforms like Facebook and YouTube even existed.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), author of the original Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) as a member of Congress more than two decades ago, is spearheading the efforts to pass the updated legislation, joined by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).

“Protecting children online has long been a priority of mine,” Markey said. said after the panel’s “historic” vote on COPPA 2.0. “But so much has changed since 1998. Threats to the privacy and well-being of children are more pressing than ever. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that today too many online platforms have an insatiable appetite for data and attention of young people.”

“Too many online platforms are built on a business model that seeks to attract consumers at a young age by any means necessary,” he continued. “Too many online platforms are hoarding treasure troves of children’s personal information to feed black box algorithms that amplify toxic content, harming the mental and physical well-being of users every day. It’s time to tackle these issues head-on.”

As Markey’s office summarized on Wednesday, COPPA 2.0:

  • Prohibit Internet companies from collecting personal information about anyone between the ages of 13 and 16 without the user’s consent;
  • Prohibit marketing targeted at children;
  • create an online “eraser button” by requiring companies to allow users to delete a child or teenager’s personal information;
  • Implement a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Minors” that limits the collection of personal information from young users; and
  • Establish a Youth Privacy and Marketing Division, the first of its kind, in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which will be responsible for protecting the privacy of children and minors and marketing to children and minors.

Blumenthal and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) run KOSA, which, according its sponsors, not only “provides families with the tools, safeguards and transparency they need to protect themselves from threats to the health and well-being of children online”, but also “creates accountability for harms social media” and “opens black box algorithms”. “

While the letter from more than 100 advocates hails KOSA’s efforts to hold Big Tech accountable “after their repeated failures to protect children and teens from practices that make their platforms more harmful,” some critics, like Jason Kelley of the Electronic Frontier Foundation ( FEP), have suggested that it would “endanger the rights and safety of young people online”.

Fight for the Future director Evan Greer also Underline Kelley’s detailed review from late March and said last week that “KOSA is a bad bill and would be a disaster, especially for LGBTQ+ youth” – a concern shared by other policy pundits.

As Kelley explained:

Parental controls would indeed require a large number of online platforms to create systems allowing parents to spy on – and control – the conversations that young people may have online, and would require these systems to be activated by default. This would also likely result in additional tracking of all users.

And in order to avoid liability for causing the damages listed, almost all online platforms would hide or remove huge swaths of content. And because each of the listed areas of concern involves significant gray areas, platforms will over-censor in an attempt to avoid new liability risks.

Zamaan Qureshi, a Markey intern who also works for the Real Facebook Oversight Board, tweeted Wednesday that “there’s still a lot to do on KOSA” with Kelley’s article.

“While there are issues worth debating and ironing out, we can still recognize the historic nature of these bills,” Qureshi said. saidadding that “we wouldn’t have gotten here without the necessary disclosures and testimony” from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.

In a “60 Minutes” interview in early October and testimony to Congress, Haugen described Facebook – which changed the name of its parent company to Meta a few weeks later – as a threat to children and American democracy.

Haugen told senators that “corporate leaders know how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they’ve put their astronomical profits before people.”

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