In his second State of the Union address, President Joe Biden is expected to discuss children’s online safety issues and their right to privacy. According to the White House, the president wants to make sure that children can explore the internet safely and without fear of exposure or abuse.
President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will call on lawmakers to ban targeted advertising targeting young people, protect children’s privacy, and health and safety. The president will also express his support for imposing stronger transparency requirements on tech companies that collect user data.
Former vice presidential candidate Joe Biden has been vocal about the mental health impacts of social media on kids and teens in the past, and his 2020 campaign is doubling down on those concerns. In his speech at the 2022 National Youth Leadership summit, Biden highlighted Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s massive document leaks, which sparked a series of five Senate hearings on children’s online safety. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden even invited Haugen as a special guest to last year’s event indicating the president’s attention to her advocacy.
The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) has the potential to help parents keep their children safe online. It presents a variety of ways for parents to monitor their children’s online activity, establishes guidelines for protecting kids from inappropriate content on the internet, and offers financial assistance to schools that create cyber-security education programs.
The proposed bill would require social media companies to provide users under age 16 with the option to protect their information, disable addictive product features and opt out of algorithmic recommendations; give parents more control over their child’s social media usage; require social media platforms to conduct a yearly independent audit to assess their risk to minors; and allow academics and public interest organizations to use company data to inform their research on children’s internet safety. This could help parents better monitor what their children are doing online, help identify when an online account may be in danger, and create awareness about the dangers of using addictive products while online.
Ultimately, the KOSA legislation was not included in the $1.7 trillion Omnibus spending bill that was passed by Congress on December 21st. However, Blumenthal and Blackburn remain committed to passing it in future iterations of appropriations bills. They believe that KOSA is important not only for law enforcement officers and their communities, but also for the safety of all Americans who use public transportation.”
This open letter from organizations speaks to the unintended negative consequences of S. 1393, the KOSA bill. If enacted, this legislation would require any service that may be used by minors to use age and identity verification technology. This could include things like online services and apps, which are used by a large number of adults as well as minors. The letter argues that such a requirement would create significant barriers for people who rely on online services and could have unintended negative consequences, such as causing adults to avoid using online services that are important to minors or leading to more cyberbullying in communities with high levels of internet use.
The advocates for comprehensive privacy legislation have stated that platforms such as Facebook should not require users to provide personal identifying information in order to use their platform safely. This information can be easily compromised, leading to embarrassing or even dangerous situations.
Many people argue that requiring people to verify their age through state-run ID verification apps is a way to preserve youth safety, while those who oppose the policy say that it creates a culture of surveillance. Pornhub was the FIRST major website to begin requiring users to verify their age through a state-run ID verification app, but now other websites are beginning to do the same. Although some people argue that this policy safeguards youth safety, critics say that it leads to a Surveillance State where everyone is monitored and tracked.
The EFF claims that the KOSA proposal would require platforms like Apple’s iMessage, Signal, web browsers, emails, VPNs and social platforms to collect more user data than they currently do. This would be the exact opposite of what the legislation purports to do.
Critics of the bill argue that it would allow state attorneys general to act arbitrarily and censor information they deem harmful to minors. They fear that this could lead to websites blocking access to content based on the opinion of a single attorney general, rather than on any objective criteria.
The ACLU of Utah, EFF, GLAAD and five other groups have released a letter stating that they are concerned about the impact of the KOSA bill on LGBTQ+ youth. The letter specifically points out how the bill could restrict access to sex education and mental health resources, among other issues. While the new language in the bill may address some of these concerns, the groups argue that it is still deeply threatening to LGBTQ+ youth.
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Google v. Oracle case could have a major impact on how people use the internet, and Joe Biden’s calls for change in his State of the Union address are only as powerful as the other branches of government allow. If Section 230 is repealed, companies like Google could be held accountable for the content they publish online, which could lead to restrictions on free speech and freedom of expression.