Business and Technology

Lawmakers Seek Tougher Online Safety Standards for Children

Social media companies would be liable for harm to minors under a new bipartisan proposal introduced Wednesday in the Senate.

Content-targeting, unlimited screen time, and engagement-driving features like auto-play also would be disabled by default for children under a measure proposed by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Republican Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Platforms would also be required to disclose more data to researchers and allow parents to control privacy and account settings.

The measure follows months of congressional discussions about the harms of social media to young people, which were accelerated by the disclosure of Facebook documents by whistle-blower Frances Haugen. This legislation is the product of those hours of hearings,” Blackburn said during a press conference Wednesday.

If passed, the bill would require platforms to “give options to children and their parents to protect their info, to disable addictive features, and to opt out of the algorithm recommendations that often involve driving toxic content to kids,” said Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that led the whistle-blower hearings.

Enforcement would be led by the Federal Trade Commission, whose chair Lina Khan has said she plans to pursue new rules on data security and privacy. In addition, companies believed to be violating the law could be sued by state attorneys general under the bill.

With a busy Senate schedule including other tech-focused bills and a Supreme Court nomination process, it’s unclear how quickly this proposal could advance.

Blumenthal said that he hopes the bill could do so in the spring or summer given the bipartisan support and the high public interest in the congressional hearings.

While any internet service used by minors would be subject to the new rules, the focus is on marquee social platforms owned by companies like Snap Inc. and Twitter Inc.

The proposal, which could dampen teen engagement on these apps, comes as Meta Platforms Inc. frets about its declining popularity among young people. Last October, Bloomberg reported that teen activity on the platform was down, and the trend was accelerating.

Source: mybroadband

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