Biden’s push to protect kids online is ‘way overdue,’ some advocates say

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 7, 2023. Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) listen.

During his State of the Union address, President Biden urged Congress to pass legislation aimed to protect kids’ privacy online, a move seen as encouraging but long overdue.

Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube have all come under fire for playing a role in what researchers say are rising rates of depression and anxiety in children.

In his speech, Biden said that social media companies must be held accountable “for the experiment they are running on our children for profit.”

“It’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data these companies collect on all of us,” he added.

Theresa Payton, CEO of cybersecurity consulting firm Fortalice Solutions and former White House chief information officer, said she was encouraged to hear Biden speak about data privacy, adding that imposing stricter limits on personal data collection from social media companies is way overdue. 

“Protecting children’s data online should be a bipartisan issue where both sides come together to protect our children,” Payton said. 

“It would be terrific if 2023 could be the year we could agree that children’s privacy must come first,” she added.  

That could prove difficult, as two kids’ online safety bills introduced in the Senate last year have yet to pass the upper chamber.

The bills are the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, also known as COPPA 2.0, and the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA).

The COPPA 2.0 legislation, which is led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass), would update a 1998 law, also authored by then-Rep. Markey, that deals with the data that social media companies collect from children and teenagers. 

The new bill would expand protections to minors ages 12 to 16, who are not protected by the current law. The legislation would also ban targeted marketing to minors without getting consent first. 

KOSA, on the other hand, addresses the design of the social media platforms and how they operate for young users. 

The legislation would create a duty for the platforms to prevent and mitigate harm to minors, including content promoting self-harm, suicide, eating disorders and substance abuse. 

The bill would also require social media platforms to complete an annual independent audit assessing risks to minors and their compliance with the law. It would also compel the platforms to put the strictest privacy setting in place as the default setting for minors. 

KOSA is led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.)

In July, the Senate Commerce Committee advanced both bills with bipartisan support. 

Despite the bipartisan support, some lawmakers criticized the committee for not prioritizing the American Data Privacy Protection Act (ADPPA), a House bill that addresses privacy concerns for all Americans, including children.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who voted against Markey’s COPPA 2.0 legislation, said at the time that “the need for a national law that provides data protection for everyone must be this committee’s priority.”

“While no legislation is perfect, the ADPPA represents a bipartisan, bicameral compromise which I believe has the best chance to reach the president’s desk before the end of this year,” Wicker said.

Brandon Pugh, policy director of the cybersecurity and emerging threats team at the R Street Institute, had some similar views, saying that Congress should focus on protecting the data of all Americans, not just minors. 

“Some members of Congress seem interested in moving forward with narrower legislation aimed at only protecting kids’ privacy, but all Americans face data privacy and security concerns,” Pugh said. 

“Acting on a comprehensive federal data privacy and security law helps ensure everyone, regardless of age, is protected,” he added.

“The American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA), introduced last Congress, is a model for expanding data privacy protections and rights for all, including children,” he continued. 

Tags Biden Biden big tech data privacy Ed Markey Joe Biden State of the Union

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