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Coronavirus Roundup: Senators Tackle Children’s Online Privacy, Facebook Removes Conspiracy Theories, Broadband in Rural New Hampshire

David Jelke

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Photo of Sen. Dick Durbin by the Center for American Progress used with permission

May 11, 2020 — A bipartisan group of senators on Friday urged the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into children’s data practices in the educational technology and digital advertising sectors.

Sens. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Dick Durbin, D-Ill. and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., wrote the letter, urging the agency to use its authority under the FTC Act.

The Senators made their request following the agency’s announcement that it will begin an ahead-of-schedule review of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule and as kids’ technology use and media consumption has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Children are a uniquely vulnerable population that deserve [heightened] privacy protections. The FTC should take extreme caution not to weaken — either purposefully or inadvertently — privacy protections under COPPA,” the senators wrote. “In order to ensure that the COPPA Rule review benefits young users, the FTC should use its statutory power to uncover critical information about evolving and widespread threats to children’s privacy that warrant further protections.”

Facebook and YouTube remove COVID conspiracies

YouTube and Facebook are scrambling to quash the virality of a lie-laden and potentially dangerous video promoting conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Plandemic,” a 26-minute video with a documentary feel, promotes the conspiracy “that wealthy people are intentionally spreading the novel coronavirus to increase vaccination rates in the population at large and that wearing a mask can actually worsen viral symptoms.”

In response, Facebook and YouTube have been removing copies of the video, which has amassed millions of views. Facebook defended its action by arguing that the suggestion that masks cause illness “could lead to imminent harm.”

Conspiracy theorists and supporters of the video took to Twitter to express outrage with YouTube’s removal of the content, making the video’s title a trending topic.

New Hampshire gets $2 million loan from USDA’s ReConnect program

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Thursday that USDA is investing $2 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in New Hampshire.

This funding is part of USDA’s round one investments through the ReConnect Pilot Program.

“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now — as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency,” Sec. Purdue said. “Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband.”

USDA is providing a $2 million loan to help Granite State Telephone Inc. build fiber to provide speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gpbs) downstream and 1 Gbps upstream to rural subscribers in Hillsborough, Sullivan and Cheshire counties in New Hampshire.

The service area includes 890 households, an educational facility and a critical community facility.

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