WASHINGTON, July 9, 2019 — YouTube has been “inadequate and abysmally slow in responding” to recent allegations that its algorithms promote child sexualization, said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.
If big tech companies don’t take sufficient steps to protect children from exploitation on their platforms, they should be stripped of their protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, allowing parents and others to sue them, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC.
Using Section 230 protections as leverage is the “most effective” way of creating prompt change, Graham claimed. Blumenthal agreed, arguing that the uniquely broad immunity given to big tech platforms is part of the reason that they are failing to do more to protect children.
The root of the problem is that companies are prioritizing ad revenue over child safety, said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri. YouTube has the ability to stop automatically recommending videos featuring children but chooses not to because three quarters of the platform’s traffic comes from the autoplay feature.
The Federal Trade Commission also came under fire at the hearing for failing to enforce the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The FTC can and should take action to protect children by using its authority, under Section Five of the Clayton Act, to hold platforms responsible for the services that they are marketing to children as well as the services that are marketed towards adults but being used by children anyways, said Georgetown Law Professor Angela Campbell.
Platforms such as YouTube fall into the latter category; although Google’s Terms of Service require users to be at least 13 years old, the company clearly knows that younger children are using the platform, but has failed to address this concern, according to Campbell.
Even with increased enforcement, COPPA regulations are inadequate at protecting children because of rapid technological developments and because the safeguards do not apply to children past the age of 13.
In response to questioning from Sen. Blumenthal, all witnesses at the hearing supported updating COPPA regulations to be modeled after the California Consumer Privacy Act, which expands protections to minors up to the age of 16.
The internet is a place of both “wonderful potential and troubling and pervasive darkness,” said Christopher McKenna, founder of internet safety company Protect Young Eyes. To help parents discern between the good and the bad, there is a need for a uniform, independent, and accountable rating system for apps, similar to the system used for video games.
It’s impossible to make the internet a completely safe place for children, so the focus should be on moving from “protection to empowerment, blocking to monitoring, and restrictions to responsibility,” said Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute.
Balkam highlighted the importance of engaging “all parts of the technology ecosystem,” with the government providing oversight and parents and teachers receiving technological training so that they can confidently navigate the online world alongside children.
“Most importantly,” Balkam said, “children must be taught to be good digital citizens.” This includes knowing the consequences of sharing personal information and having the moral and technical tools to deal with the inappropriate material they will “inevitably” encounter—both online and offline.
(Photo of Sen. Blumenthal by Emily McPhie.)
FTC Forum Hears Evidence that U.S. Should Follow European Union Privacy Model
The agency is proposing to use its own authority to regulate tech platforms for their ‘commercial surveillance’.
WASHINGTON September 15, 2022 – The Federal Trade Commission should consider adopting standards established by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation to force Big Tech platforms to consent to the use of their user’s personal information, according to the CEO of a digital content trade organization.
The FTC proposed last month to use its authority under Section 18 of the FTC Act to bring “commercial surveillance” – the act of entities collecting personal information and selling them to third-party data brokers – under its authority to further regulate technology platforms. Section 18 is a statute of the FTC Act that grants the commission the authority to implement trade regulation rules for businesses that use tactics that are considered “unfair” or harmful to consumers.
Digital Content Next CEO Jason Kint said during an FTC public hearing on the matter on September 8 that the EU’s GDPR model provides an established practice of requiring companies and organizations to get consent to the use of their data in these contexts.
“Having a pop-up come up [for consent] every time you visit the site…that’s entirely in line with users’ expectations,” Kint said. To comply with GDPR principles, websites shown to users in the United States must ask visitors if they consent to the collection of their data in part to cater certain products to them.
“The user doesn’t want it to happen where their data is being tracked by third parties,” Kint said.
“So, if you’re the party that they’re choosing to interact with for service, providing them that data is very different.”
In August, the FTC announced an rulemaking to consider commercial surveillance as a Section 18 violation of the FTC Act. It its notice seeking comment, the FTC asked questions about what companies should disclose, who would administer the disclosure agreements, and if the FTC should impose limitations on the mechanisms companies use to hide their surveillance practices.
On July 20, the Senate Commerce Committee passed comprehensive privacy legislation a restricting collection and transfer of personal data of U.S. citizens without consent.
The measure has not yet passed the House, but in responding to the August announcement, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said that it is the responsibility of Congress, not the FTC, “to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation.”
There are currently more than 120,000 comments on this issue. The FTC is still collecting public statements on this issue until October 21.
Republican FTC Commissioner Criticizes Biden Economic Officials as Detrimental to Agency
Commissioner Christine Wilson attributes poor results of FTC staff satisfaction surveys to the officials’ leadership.
WASHINGTON, May 9, 2022 – On Friday Republican commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission Christine Wilson expanded upon released remarks criticizing the leadership of economic officials chosen by President Joe Biden as detrimental to the functioning of her agency and staff.
Wilson pointed to recently administered surveys of FTC staff on satisfaction in their jobs which showed historically poor results for the commission, saying attitudes towards the commission and its work peddled by its Chair Lina Khan, former commissioner and current director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Rohit Chopra and Biden’s special assistant for technology and competition policy Tim Wu are largely to blame for low staff morale.
“We saw Chair Khan’s arrival and a complete disregard for the rule of law and due process, not to mention complete disregard for staff,” said Wilson.
“We saw Commissioner Rohit Chopra arrive at the FTC and begin excoriating the agency and the commission and the staff as being lax and feckless for the last 40 years.”
Speaking at the Free State Foundation’s Annual Policy Conference with fellow Republican Commissioner Noah Phillips and former Republican chairwoman of the commission Maureen Ohlhausen, Wilson cast the commission as an entity in disarray.
She revealed a workplace where commissioners have often been given very little notice on items they will be considering on the agenda of the commission.
Ohlhausen noted a decrease in bipartisan activity from the commission that she felt was present as a long-lasting legacy of commissions past during her tenure as chair, and Wilson described “disdain and marginalization of staff by current leadership” as harmful to the environment at the commission.
Drawing on her recent remarks, Wilson hypothesized that new leadership’s economic worldview draws heavily on concepts from academic Marxism and critical legal studies, a school of thought of which the Republican-maligned critical race theory is an offshoot.
She states that these theories largely play into the view of new leadership that the FTC in the past has not brought nearly enough action to protect consumers.
Also on Friday, Wilson emphasized the need for federal privacy legislation and said she has heard of a “concerted push” in Congress for such legislation to pass soon.
Biden Looks to Bedoya to Replace Rohit Chopra on FTC, Report Says
Staunch privacy advocate Alvaro Bedoya appears to be Joe Biden’s pick for the FTC, Axios reports.
WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021—President Joe Biden is expected to bring on privacy stalwart Alvaro Bedoya for the open seat on the Federal Trade Commission, according to reporting from Axios.
Born in Peru and raised in New York, Bedoya attended Harvard University where he received his B.A. in Social Studies. He also holds a J.D. from Yale.
A longtime supporter of consumer privacy rights, Bedoya is the founding director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law. Previously, he served as chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law. While working in the Senate, much of his work centered on location and biometric privacy with regard to consumer protections.
As it stands now, there are three Democrats and two Republicans on the commission. In January of 2021, Biden tapped Rohit Chopra to serve as the Director of the Consumer Protection Bureau. Though Chopra’s term on the FTC expired in 2019, the commission allows incumbent members to sit until a replacement is appointed—in this case, Bedoya.
The Washington Post quoted Republican FTC commissioner Noah Phillips speaking fondly of Bedoya. “I don’t think of him as a person who just gets up and rants about entities he doesn’t like,” and described him as “without fail as bright and thoughtful a person as you could find.”
Phillips has been broadly critical of the direction he feels the FTC is going and has historically criticized political firebrands on both sides of the aisle.
As Big Tech faces mounting criticism from both Republicans and Democrats with regard to privacy, misinformation, and alleged censorship, Bedoya will be entering a tumultuous era for the FTC.
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