Kids Online Safety Act Advocates Holding Tech Accountable

A bipartisan bill to protect kids online was introduced Wednesday by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee). The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) would give parents more control over social media settings, add opt-out features and establish a “duty of care” that opens the door to liability and lawsuits. “Big Tech has brazenly failed children and betrayed its trust, putting profits above safety,” said Blumenthal. “This measure makes kids’ safety an Internet priority.” The bill follows a media blitz and months of Congressional hearings on the danger of social media to the mental and physical health of young users.

“Our purpose here is not to burn the Internet to the ground, not to destroy tech platforms or the Internet or these sites; it is simply to enlist the social media platforms in this joint effort to achieve what should be a common goal — protecting children,” Blumenthal said on a press call reported in The Wall Street Journal.

“Protecting our kids and teens online is critically important, particularly since COVID increased our reliance on technology,” Blackburn said in a statement on her website.

The bill would “give parents of children under 16 tools to protect them, including the ability to modify algorithmically generated recommendations, ban certain kinds of content, prevent third parties from accessing minors’ data, and limit children’s online screen time,” notes The New York Times. More importantly, KOSA legislation “could affect more than Big Tech. It would apply to any online service that is ‘reasonably likely to be used’ by children younger than 16, including video games and streaming services.”

The Kids Online Safety Act:

  • Requires that social media platforms provide minors with options to protect their information, disable addictive product features, and opt out of algorithmic recommendations. The strongest settings required by default.
  • Gives parents new controls to help support their children and identify harmful behaviors.
  • Creates a “duty of care” for social media platforms to prevent and mitigate harm to minors, such as promotion of self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, and unlawful products for minors (e.g. gambling and alcohol).
  • Requires social media platforms to perform an annual independent audit that assesses the risks to minors and compliance with KOSA.
  • Mandatory access to critical social media datasets by academics and public interest groups researching the safety and well-being of minors.

If passed, KOSA “would have a significant effect on the design of platforms made by companies like Facebook parent Meta, Snap, Google and TikTok,” said CNBC.

The KOSA bill was introduced simultaneous to a report by the bipartisan Future of Tech Commission that calls on the U.S. to develop a technology strategy that creates new privacy protections for children and restricts the collection of personal consumer data. “We’ve had a kind of Wild West mentality,” Margaret Spellings, a commission co-chair and former U.S. secretary of education, said in WSJ, adding “it’s time to have more control.”

A one-page synopsis of KOSA and full text of the bill are available online.