Online Safety Bills Stumble: Protecting Kids or Inviting Issues?

In a recent move to address online safety for children, the Senate has made progress on two bills, but some critics are concerned that these bills might do more harm than good. One of the bills, called the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), aims to protect young users’ mental health on social media platforms by implementing various requirements. For instance, it would require platforms to provide options to disable “addictive” features, opt out of algorithmic recommendations, enable strong privacy settings by default, and prevent harmful content from being displayed. Additionally, platforms would need to undergo annual independent audits of risks to minors.

While this bill may sound like a step in the right direction, there are notable concerns. Critics argue that in order to comply with the regulations for youth users, platforms would have to determine the age of all users, thus eliminating online anonymity. Anonymous speech has long been protected in the United States for political speech and personal safety, which opponents believe could be compromised. Furthermore, privacy advocates are worried about the collection of more personal information online, which could raise serious privacy and security concerns. In order to avoid charges from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general, online services would likely collect and retain additional information, such as government-issued IDs or birth certificates, potentially increasing the risk of data breaches.

Another bill that moved out of committee, known as COPPA 2.0, focuses on data collection and aims to expand the user age covered to 16 years. It would require parental consent for data collection from those under 17, and the FTC would establish a division focused on regulating youth privacy and marketing. Similar concerns regarding privacy and security arise with this bill as well.

Despite these concerns, some advocates have praised the progress of the bills. Common Sense, an advocacy group, claims that these bills will provide long-overdue protections for minors and hold social media platforms accountable. State governments have also enacted laws to protect children online, but these efforts are likely to face similar challenges.

Ultimately, the fate of these bills will depend on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s support for placing them on the legislative agenda, as well as the Republican-led appetite for the measures in the House. It remains to be seen if these bills strike the right balance between protecting children online and preserving important constitutional rights.

Written by Staff Reports

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