The Senate has cleared two children’s online safety bills despite pushback from civil liberties groups that say the digital surveillance used to monitor behavior will result in an Internet less safe for kids. The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0) are intended to address a mental health crisis experts blame in large part on social media, but critics say the bills could cause more harm than good by forcing social media firms to collect more user data as part of enforcement. The bills — which cleared the Senate Commerce Committee by unanimous vote — are also said to reduce access to encrypted services.
President Biden has called on Congress to enact stronger online privacy protections for children, raising the subject in two State of the Union addresses. Prompted to action, bipartisan groups of lawmakers have introduced legislation addressing the concerns, with these two bills coming out on top.
“KOSA is supposed to establish a new legal standard for the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general, allowing them to police companies that fail to prevent kids from seeing harmful content on their platforms,” writes The Verge, explaining that “the authors of the bills, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), have said the bill keeps kids from seeing content that glamorizes eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, and gambling.”
KOSA also seeks to prohibit kids 13 and under from using social media at all, and require parental consent before children under 17 could use social platforms.
COPPA 2.0 raises the age of those protected by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, passed in 1998 and known as COPPA, from 13 to 16 and adjusts related age-gating restrictions. COPPA 2.0 also seeks to ban Big Tech from targeting ads to kids.
“Digital rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation oppose the Kids Online Safety Act, arguing the bill will empower state attorneys general to censor content for political reasons,” writes MediaPost.
“Rather than violating free speech rights and handing parenting over to bureaucrats, we should empower law enforcement with the resources necessary to do its job to arrest and convict bad actors committing online crimes against children,” said NetChoice VP and General Counsel Carl Szabo. The tech trade group offers its own suggestions for child protections.
Fan Fiction Writers Rally Fandoms Against KOSA, the Bill Purporting to Protect Kids Online, TechCrunch, 7/28/23
Bills Aimed at ‘Protecting’ Kids Online Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater, The Hill, 7/26/23