TikTok on the Hot Seat at Senate Homeland Security Hearing

Executives from four social media giants defended the privacy, security and content moderation protocols of their platforms to the Senate Homeland Security Committee Wednesday. In her first appearance before Congress, TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas was grilled on whether the short-form video app shares data about American citizens with the Chinese government. ByteDance, which owns TikTok, is based in Beijing, and its potential censorship of user content was another area of concern. Questions for the group — which included representatives from Meta Platforms, YouTube and Twitter — ranged from extremists to biometrics. Continue reading TikTok on the Hot Seat at Senate Homeland Security Hearing

Online Child Safety Gains Steam at State and Federal Levels

Online privacy protections for consumers are in focus on Capitol Hill, with the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) getting particular attention. A coalition of more than 100 organizations, including Fairplay and the American Psychological Association are calling on senators to advance KOSA this month. Co-sponsored by senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), the legislation would require social media platforms to conduct annual audits to identify risks to minors as well as more concrete steps like opting out of algorithmic recommendations and disabling “addictive” features.  Continue reading Online Child Safety Gains Steam at State and Federal Levels

Big Tech Faces Global Pressure to Step Up Child Protections

UK-style child protections are coming to the U.S. if a pair of California state lawmakers have anything to say about it. Assembly members Jordan Cunningham, a Republican, and Buffy Wicks, a Democrat, last week proposed the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, a bill modeled after what is popularly known in the UK as the Children’s Code, and more formally tagged the Age Appropriate Design Code. If enacted, websites and social platforms would have to limit the collection of children’s data in California, enact safeguards protecting minors from other users, minimize addictive features and simplify privacy settings. Continue reading Big Tech Faces Global Pressure to Step Up Child Protections

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. Continue reading Kids Online Safety Act Advocates Holding Tech Accountable

UK Lawmakers Are Taking Steps to Toughen Online Safety Bill

British lawmakers are seeking “major changes” to the forthcoming Online Safety Bill that cracks down on Big Tech but apparently does not go far enough. Expansions under discussion include legal consequences for tech firms and new rules for online fraud, advertising scams and deepfake (AI-generated) adult content. Comparing the Internet to the “Wild West,” Damian Collins, chairman of the joint committee that issued the report, went so far as to suggest corporate directors be subject to criminal liability if their companies withhold information or fail to comply with the act. Continue reading UK Lawmakers Are Taking Steps to Toughen Online Safety Bill

Senate Wants Social Firms to Pay for Holding Back Research

The U.S. Senate has introduced the bipartisan Platform Accountability and Transparency Act (PATA), which if passed into law would allow independent researchers to sue Big Tech for failing to provide requested data. The move follows last week’s Instagram hearing, where leaked internal research suggested the platform’s negative effects on the mental health of teens. On December 6, an international coalition of more than 300 scientists sent an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg — CEO of Meta Platforms, the company that owns Instagram and Facebook — requesting the social behemoth voluntarily share research. Continue reading Senate Wants Social Firms to Pay for Holding Back Research

Senate Tells Instagram CEO the ‘Time for Self-Policing is Over’

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri spent more than two hours in the Senate hot seat last week, answering questions about the platform’s safety policies and impact on teens’ mental health. A bipartisan phalanx grilled the executive on topics ranging from algorithms to eating disorders. Mosseri, who was appearing in Congress for the first time, defended his social platform, a division of Meta Platforms, which also owns Facebook. He resisted pressure to throw in the towel on launching an Instagram for kids, telling lawmakers only that no child would have access to such a platform “without their explicit parental consent.” Continue reading Senate Tells Instagram CEO the ‘Time for Self-Policing is Over’

Government Questions Liability Shield Offered by Section 230

The U.S. House of Representatives is signaling intent to proceed with legislation to scale back the Section 230 liability shield for Big Tech. The move follows a frontal assault on Australia’s version of the law by the Parliament and global saber-rattling against protections that prevent social platforms being held legally accountable for user-posted content that harms others. At a Wednesday hearing on various Section 230 bills, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) said that while the protections were vital to Internet growth, they have resulted in anti-social behavior. Continue reading Government Questions Liability Shield Offered by Section 230

Social Platforms Face Government Questions on Teen Safety

Executives from Snap, TikTok and YouTube tried to distance themselves from Facebook and one another in a Tuesday Senate hearing about online safety for young users. In a combative exchange lasting nearly four hours, the participating social platforms tried to make the case they are already taking steps to protect minors, while lawmakers countered that their staff was able to find posts featuring inappropriate content on their sites, sometimes while logged in as teens. “Being different from Facebook is not a defense,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut). Continue reading Social Platforms Face Government Questions on Teen Safety

Facebook Whistleblower Fuels Interest in Tougher Tech Laws

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s Senate testimony Tuesday appears to have fueled congressional desire to pass new regulations on Big Tech. At a hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online,” the inquiry expanded well beyond teens’ mental health, ranging from obsequious algorithms to Chinese surveillance of Uyghur populations, COVID-19 vaccine disinformation and speech leading to January’s Capitol insurrection. Calling Facebook “morally bankrupt,” Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) said “Big Tech is facing its Big Tobacco moment,” and urged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify. Continue reading Facebook Whistleblower Fuels Interest in Tougher Tech Laws

Whistleblower Contends Facebook Values Profits Over Safety

Whistleblower Frances Haugen said on “60 Minutes” Sunday night that Facebook was cognizant of problems with apps, including Instagram, that allowed misinformation to be spread and caused societal harm, especially among young girls. Haugen revealed on the CBS news show to be the source of documents leaked to The Wall Street Journal that led to congressional inquiry. She also filed eight complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging Facebook hid research from investors and the public. The former product manager worked for nearly two years on the civic integrity team before exiting the social network in May. Continue reading Whistleblower Contends Facebook Values Profits Over Safety

XCheck System Is Scrutinized by Facebook Oversight Board

Facebook’s semi-independent Oversight Board is scrutinizing the company’s XCheck (or cross-check) system, which permits famous or powerful users to be held to more lenient behavior rules than other users. The inquiry, which calls out “apparent inconsistencies” in the social media firm’s decision-making, follows an investigative report by The Wall Street Journal. XCheck was initially designed as a quality control system for sanctions against high-profile users, including celebrities, politicians and journalists. It eventually grew to encompass millions of accounts, some of whom were “whitelisted,” which rendered them immune from disciplinary actions. Continue reading XCheck System Is Scrutinized by Facebook Oversight Board

Apple Makes Changes for App Developers, News Publishers

Facing increased regulatory scrutiny, Apple announced significant changes to its App Store, enabling developers to inform customers about ways to pay outside the App Store and expanding prices they can offer for subscriptions as well as in-app purchases and paid apps. The company settled a class-action lawsuit with software developers and is expecting a judgment in a suit filed by Epic Games over many of the same issues. Apple’s move is the biggest it’s ever made in response to developers alleging anticompetitive behavior. The company separately announced plans to cut its commission rate for publishers on Apple News. Continue reading Apple Makes Changes for App Developers, News Publishers

Senate Measure Could Impact Developers, App Store Models

The U.S. Senate introduced the Open App Markets Act to give consumers more control over their devices; stop app stores from ‘disadvantaging’ developers and allow them to inform consumers about lower prices and offer competitive pricing; improve the ability of startup apps, third-party app stores and payment services to compete; require devices to allow ‘sideloading’ of apps; and continue to protect privacy, security and safety of consumers. If voted into law, the Act could end Apple and Google’s monopoly over the app ecosystem. Continue reading Senate Measure Could Impact Developers, App Store Models

Senate Judiciary Committee Pursues New Antitrust Legislation

Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) of the Senate Judiciary Committee are working together on antitrust legislation similar to some of the measures the House Judiciary Committee approved last month. Grassley has yet to offer specific details of proposed legislation but Klobuchar, who is chair of the judiciary panel’s antitrust subcommittee, said a focus on tech companies that offer their own version of products sold by rivals dependent on their platforms is “at the heart of two of the House proposals.” Continue reading Senate Judiciary Committee Pursues New Antitrust Legislation