Lawmakers introduce bill to protect children's data privacy

Lawmakers introduce bill to protect children's data privacy
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan pair of senators on Tuesday introduced legislation that would prevent tech companies from amassing personal information about teenagers without their consent.

The bill, introduced by outspoken tech critics Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyYoung insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight Ocasio-Cortez endorses Markey in Senate race amid speculation over Kennedy candidacy House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge MORE (D-Mass.) and freshman Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySenator Josh Hawley reacts to Saudi oil attacks Senator Josh Hawley talks push to regulate big tech The Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? MORE (R-Mo.), would prevent internet companies from targeting ads toward children and require the companies to provide more insight into how they collect and use children's data. 

It would also provide parents with an "eraser button" to remove their children's data from particular services.

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“Big tech companies know too much about our kids, and even as parents, we know too little about what they are doing with our kids’ personal data. It’s time to hold them accountable," Hawley said in a statement. "Congress needs to get serious about keeping our children’s information safe, and it begins with safeguarding their digital footprint online.” 

The bill's introduction comes more than a month after Hawley, Markey and fellow privacy hawk Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) pressed Facebook over reports that the company was paying teenagers to use apps that track all of their phone and web activity. 

Markey has reintroduced versions of the bill since 2011, but some have speculated it could have legs this session amid heightened concerns about tech companies sucking up vast amounts of data on all users, including children.

The legislation would update the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a law authored by Markey that requires tech companies to obtain parental consent in order to collect data on children under 13. The updated bill would add new provisions requiring user permission to collect information on users ages 13 through 15.

It would also require online companies to provide more transparency about what data they collect from children and how they use it.

The Markey-Hawley bill would call for any internet-connected devices targeted toward children to meet "robust cyber security standards," addressing emerging concerns about how much tech companies can learn from devices in peoples' homes. 

“Today’s kids are the most tracked generation," Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, said in a statement. "Without strong protections, lines drawn on what companies can and cannot do, and focused efforts by federal regulators, these businesses will continue to collect and monetize kids’ data."

“While companies point to their lengthy and vague consent forms, children and teens are no match for the strategic, targeted marketing efforts designed by powerful companies to play on kids' need to belong or their fear of missing out," Steyer added.

The legislation would establish a Youth Privacy and Marketing Division at the Federal Trade Commission, which would handle advertising directed at children.   

Markey is introducing the bill in a drastically different environment than he did in previous years, as federal lawmakers begin work on a comprehensive data privacy law. Multiple lawmakers, including Markey, have expressed interest in updating COPPA, which was passed by Congress in 1998. 

"The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act remains the constitution for kids’ privacy online, but today we introduce an accompanying bill of rights,” Markey said in a statement. “In 2019, children and adolescents’ every move is monitored online, and even the youngest are bombarded with advertising when they go online to do their homework, talk to friends, and play games."

"In the 21st century, we need to pass bipartisan and bicameral COPPA 2.0 legislation that puts children’s well-being at the top of Congress’s priority list," he said. "If we can agree on anything, it should be that children deserve strong and effective protections online.”