Bipartisan Bill Would Further Regulate Online Content for Kids

Senators Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) introduced the Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act, which would regulate how companies such as YouTube and TikTok handle what is accessible to children online, including advertising, app design and potentially harmful content. One of the main targets of the new bill are so-called unboxing videos, such as YouTube channel “Ryan’s World,” which can get millions of views. The KIDS Act would not ban the content, but prohibit the platform from recommending it to kids, curbing its distribution.

The Verge reports that Markey, “the original champion” of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), noted that, “powerful companies push kids to buy products at every turn online, and top platforms are saturated with disturbing content that no kid should ever be exposed to.”

The bill would also “ban companies from using autoplay features, like automatically loading a new video once the current one finishes playing … [and] push alerts or achievements that incentivize kids to stay on the platform for longer periods of time.”

COPPA already bans platforms from collecting the data of children under 13; the Federal Trade Commission recently “fined YouTube and TikTok millions of dollars for COPPA violations.” Markey and Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) are working on COPPA 2.0 to cover children under the age of 15.

“Big Tech has designed their platforms to ensnare and exploit children for more likes, more views, and more purchases,” Blumenthal said. “The KIDS Act puts guardrails in place to reign in recklessness of marketers and Big Tech — protecting children and giving parents some peace of mind.” After YouTube settled with the FTC earlier this year, it began to ban “conventional ad targeting for any video aimed at children, which has significantly reduced ad revenue for the channels involved.”

If the KIDS Act is approved, YouTube creators could find themselves even more at a disadvantage.

Engadget reports on the EARN IT Act (Eliminating Abuse and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2019), which would remove Section 230 immunity for platforms that don’t take steps to block online sexual child abuse. The ACLU opposed the bill “on the basis that it will lead to the introduction of backdoors that reduce the security and privacy of everyone.”

Judiciary Committee chair Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Blumenthal and Dianne Feinstein (D-California) support the bill. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has previously “spoken out about drafts of the legislation and the danger of undermining Section 230, and activists are already organizing against the legislation.”

A judiciary hearing on EARN IT is scheduled for March 11.