March 05, 2024

Democrat’s Child Online Safety Bill Demands Age Verification

  • Jake Auchincloss introduces new kids’ online safety bill
  • Proposal would update law that applies to users under 13

Social media companies would be prohibited from collecting personal information from children under 16 without their consent under new legislation to be introduced Tuesday.

The bill from Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), obtained first by Bloomberg Government, seeks to update a decades-old law, known as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, that currently applies to children younger than 13. The bill would also require online platforms to verify the age of their users.

The new legislation adds to a lengthy list of congressional proposals seeking to crack down on social media companies for allegedly harming their youngest users. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been trying to improve the experiences of kids online, pointing to growing evidence that suggests excessive social media use and exposure to harmful content, such as violence and substance abuse, has links to declining mental health among young people.

Several of the proposals have come under fire as civil rights advocates and tech groups claim that they may worsen digital rights and limit free speech rather than improve safety online. Ideas such as age verification have sparked privacy concerns that companies would end up collecting more personal information from users.

Auchincloss’ bill requires age verification but does not specify a method to do so, and it would ban platforms from selling or transferring information collected from their users to verify their age or further using and keeping that information, according to the bill’s text.

“As the youngest parent in the Democratic caucus, I speak daily with parents who are stressed about their children’s social media usage, and I speak with youth who are made increasingly lonely and anxious as a result of their social media habits,” Auchincloss said in a statement.

“Meanwhile, trillion-dollar social media corporations continue to productize our children to sell ads. Congress must fight back on behalf of parents and children, who don’t have the time or resources to outfox algorithms,” he added. “My legislation directly holds social media corporations accountable for their negligent approach to our children’s wellbeing.”

The bill’s release is timed to President Joe Biden’s upcoming State of the Union address on Thursday evening. In previous speeches, Biden has explicitly called out social media platforms and urged Congress to pass new protections for kids.

AI, Privacy Among Tech Wish List for Biden State of the Union

Auchincloss plans to bring Myrieme Nadri-Churchill, the executive director of nonprofit Parents for Peace, as his guest for the speech, according to a release. The group works to prevent radicalization and extremism, some of which can be bred on social media.

By:  Oma Seddiq
Source: Bloomberg