GOP senator announces bill to ban 'manipulative' video game design

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 'time out' on facial recognition tech | DHS asks cybersecurity staff to volunteer for border help | Judge rules Qualcomm broke antitrust law | Bill calls for 5G national security strategy The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Momentum grows to create 'Do Not Track' registry MORE (R-Mo.) on Wednesday announced that he will introduce legislation banning "manipulative" online game features he says can push children to become addicted to technology.

Hawley's Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act would prohibit games geared toward children from implementing features that prompt users to pay real-world money to advance in the game, called "pay-to-win," or receive rewards at random for a fee, called "loot boxes."

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be tasked with enforcing the ban, and state attorneys general would also be empowered to file lawsuits against companies who violated the rules.

"Social media and video games prey on user addiction, siphoning our kids’ attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits," Hawley, a former GOP attorney general and one of the most outspoken Republican tech critics, said in a statement.

"No matter this business model’s advantages to the tech industry, one thing is clear: there is no excuse for exploiting children through such practices," he said.

The bill would specifically target games geared towards children, as determined by their "subject matter, visual content, and other indicators."

The senator is expected to introduce the bill sometime in the next few days.

The Entertainment Software Association on Wednesday put out a statement rejecting Hawley's proposal. The acting president and CEO of the video game industry trade group, Stanley Pierre-Louis, pointed out that “numerous countries, including Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, determined that loot boxes do not constitute gambling."

"We look forward to sharing with the senator the tools and information the industry already provides that keeps the control of in-game spending in parents’ hands," Pierre-Louis said. "Parents already have the ability to limit or prohibit in-game purchases with easy to use parental controls.” 

Hawley, alongside Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySenators offer bipartisan bill to help US firms remove Huawei equipment from networks Markey releases infrastructure suggestions that align with Green New Deal goals GOP senator announces bill to block companies from tracking online activity MORE (D-Mass.), introduced a bill in March that would expand the country's child privacy law, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Hawley and Markey's "COPPA 2.0" would prevent tech companies from amassing personal information about teenagers without their consent.

As it stands, COPPA requires tech companies to obtain parental consent in order to collect data on children under 13. The bill introduced by Markey and Hawley would extend protections for those between 13 and 15.

Children's data privacy has offered some opportunities for bipartisan agreement as lawmakers in both chambers seek to hammer out the nation's first comprehensive privacy law.

And Hawley has sought to make a name for himself as a tech critic in the Republican Party, criticizing tech giants' enormous market power and alleged exploitation of customers. At a Hoover Institution event last week, Hawley criticized tech companies for encouraging users to become addicted to their products.

"Users’ attention is bought by the tech giants and then immediately sold to advertisers, for the highest price of course," Hawley said during the remarks. "Social media only works as a business model if it consumes users’ time and attention day after day after day."

—Updated at 12:56 p.m.